To celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day, a massive, nearly 40-foot tall Kwakwaka’waxw-carved totem pole was unveiled on June 21 at Port Hardy Secondary School (PHSS) in front of a crowd of hundreds of people.
The pole had actually been finished last year, but the unveiling was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The project has been supported over the years by the Kwakuitl First Nation Band, Education Coordinator Marion Hunt, and Rena Sweeney, Assistant Superintendent for School District 85.
Kaleb Child was the master of ceremonies for the unveiling, stating it’s with “so much emotion in our heart today to have the privilege to remind ourselves of the humility and the statement this collective community is making about where we are in our timeline and our responsibility … around reconciliation.”
Master carver Mervyn Child, whose roots lie deep in the Kwakiutl First Nation, spoke to the crowd, thanking Western Forest Products for delivering the log to them, which was blessed once they received it. He then went on to describe all of the carvings.
“This pole speaks from the top down,” he confirmed, noting it has a sun and the moon on top of it, and then below that is a frog, which he said is a communicator of spirit.
“All Indigenous people throughout the country, and the world know the potency of the frog,” he said, before describing the thunderbird below it as a “ruler of the sky.”
After that, there’s a woman dressed in ceremonial regalia. The woman has a tree of life growing out of a northern soul catcher. Child said the branches contain many of their first ancestors, and then there is a man in regalia holding a talking stick with a large grouse on it.
“The grouse is heavily involved in our history,” said Child, noting it gave them hunting magic, canoe knowledge and an announcement and connection to the spirit of the forest.
Finally, the pole ends with a sea monster holding a copper of an ancestor in human form.
Child finished his speech by thanking Kwakiutl Chief David Knox for trusting him with this work and the opportunity to carve the pole, before speaking about how Knox is a true leader here in the North Island communities.
PHSS Principal Jillian Walkus was the next to take the microphone after that.
“It’s a fantastic day to have you here with us,” said Walkus to the crowd. “On behalf of the students and staff of Port Hardy Secondary School it is a privilege to welcome each of you here today.”
She noted this project has been many years in the making, and it’s exciting for everyone to be together to celebrate on National Indigenous Peoples Day.
“Your presence here today is so very important,” she added, stating SD85 was pleased “you’re all here to witness the unveiling of this magnificent pole.”
“Witnessing involves being a part of creating deeper bonds and relationships, and that is my hope for each of us here today, a collective witnessing based on open hands, hearts, and minds.”
The Kwakiutl First Nation and School District representatives were supported by a grant application from the First Peoples’ Cultural Council and many people worked hard to bring the totem pole to fruition, said Walkus, who noted that Connections Worker Leslie Taylor-Child was also key in the inclusion of SD85 learners into the pole project, as well as the planning of the unveiling.