North Island Secondary School (NISS) has contracted Kwakwaka’wakw artist Don Svanvik to help students carve a brand new 20-foot totem pole.
“North Island Secondary School is a regional high school that has grown in its learning and supporting of First Nation’s culture and traditions,” said Principal Jay Dixon. “With this project we intend to involve students in learning more of the Kwakwaka’wakw culture with the ‘Namyut (family) Home of Learning Pole project.”
According to Dixon, ‘Namyut is a strong theme at NISS, and all of the students “will be invited to view and participate in the carving of this 20-foot totem.”
He said teachers will be provided with a breakdown of the project and possible activities that could be incorporated into their teaching. Students will be directly involved with Svanvik in learning to carve the totem pole, said Dixon.
“Mr. Svanvik has a pre-existing relationship with students, as he was a resident artist for us two years ago when he carved a traditional drum log with our students.”
Dixon added that students from all the neighbouring schools will be encouraged to spend time in the carving area — learning skills, listening to traditional stories, language, and much more.
“The 20-foot totem pole will symbolize community strength through building connections (family) between First Nations and non-First Nations youth, families, and community,” Dixon said, adding it will “allow all non-Indigenous members of North Island communities on the North Island with an opportunity to learn about Kwakwaka’wakw culture. It will provide an opportunity for Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth to work together as part of a team to build something beautiful and cultural.”
Upon completion, the pole will be located in the middle of the grassy area directly in front of NISS with a large ceremony to celebrate.
“We believe this project will have a positive impact for our youth and their families,” said Dixon. “This project can help inspire all youth and enhance cultural understandings. We believe that this project will foster understanding amongst and between Kwakwaka’wakw and non-Indigenous peoples, which in turn will foster healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restore relations.”
Dixon added the 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).