ALERT BAY—The U’mista Cultural Centre has two new guardians standing watch at its front entrance. Two new poles were raised this past Friday on either side of the entrance as a “way of turning a positive into a negative,” said Sarah Holland, U’mista Executive Director. This work was commissioned in response to two break ins and a fire that all took place in the last three years.
Most recently, the fire, which was determined to be arson, caused damage to 160 pieces in the Potlatch Collection. This “meant there were people in the community that were so disconnected with the values of the U’mista that they could set fire to us in the middle of the night and run away,” said Holland. She pointed out that the security in the centre was now as good as that of a bank, but said the U’mista executive felt it needed to make a statement with these poles.
Since it was determined that youth were responsible for the fire, youth were brought together with elders in this project. Lead carver Marcus Alfred worked with five youth from the community: Garret Cranmer, Eddie Walkus, Harry Isaac, Tristan Sirois, and Aubrey Johnson Jr.. During the six weeks the team carved the poles, elders spent the afternoons with the group to share stories and share their wisdom.
The two poles were chosen because the Gala (Bear) and the Nułamał are messengers of Maya’xala, or respect, and traditionally responsible for keeping order in the big house.
“We hope these guardian poles will help keep order around here, and remind us all to behave with Maya’xala,” Holland said.