NISS’ totem pole mystery

The totem pole’s original wings were recently found in storage at NISS

It’s a mystery that goes back to 1975.

Who carved North Island Secondary School’s totem pole?

“We have received several anonymous calls, but we would still like more information that dates back to 1975 on who carved that pole,” said NISS Principal Jay Dixon.

Dixon said while the callers told him it was Mike Stadnyk who was the carver of the totem pole, “we think it was probably more than one person participating in the project. If there is somebody out there that can confirm the name we’ve been given, or others who were involved, we would greatly appreciate the input.”

The totem pole’s original wings were recently found in storage at NISS.

“They must have been removed many years ago during a renovation,” Dixon said, adding the wings are still in perfect shape and the school will be mounting the wings inside the building as part of a display.

While the mystery of who carved the 1975 totem pole still lingers, Dixon was more than happy to give an update on NISS’ new totem pole project ‘the ‘Namyut (family) Home of Learning Pole’, which will be carved by Kwakwaka’wakw artist Don Svanvik and local students.

“We are currently applying for some more grants,” said Dixon. “We’ve raised $17,500 out of the $25,000 that we need, and we have a log en route thanks to a donation from Western Forest Products. We’ve been in discussion with the artist, and our tentative start date is as soon as that log gets here.”

NISS’ First Nations connection worker Ida Miller said she thinks the new totem pole project is “a monumental moment for the students at NISS, as well as the First Nations of this territory. It represents a new beginning and an overall sense of belonging for everybody in this school — it’s pretty inspirational.”

Dixon agreed, saying NISS has “students from all of our neighbouring First Nations attending our school. We are very excited they can all come together to create something that’s focused on family and learning.”

Dixon said he would like to see cultural identity flourish in Port McNeill.

Miller said she works with 111 students “who identify as First Nations’ ancestry, and it’s really neat to have them come in and be loud and proud about their culture and want to share it with the other students.”

She added the students are all pretty excited about the project, “because the artist coming in is someone who allows the students to do the work with him. The way he carves the pole is in following with our traditions. He carves with you so you can acquire the skills and growth in our traditional ways.”

NISS’ totem pole project wouldn’t have come to fruition without the support of the First Peoples’ Cultural Council’s Arts Program and the U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay.

If you would like to donate to the project, please contact NISS for more information (250-956-3394).

UPDATE – the carvers of the 1975 totem pole have been identified! The carvers were Jim Wilson, Mike Stadnyk, Ron And Brad Tucker, and Paul Hawryluk.