Port McNeill’s first Kwakwaka’wakw carved totem pole will soon be raised on the front lawn of North Island Secondary School (NISS).
Over the last year ‘Namgis Chief and artist, Don Svanvik, has been working with students to carve a new 20-foot totem pole that will stand in the middle of the grassy area directly in front of NISS.
“It started out as a neat idea,” said Svanvik. “As time moves on, we are realizing that this is going to have a real impact on all of the students at the school and a realization that we are sharing the space.”
Svanvik and Kwakiutl artist Mervyn Child are currently working on the pole, which will be completed in time for a traditional totem raising ceremony to be held at NISS on May 17.
“I’m going to be extremely happy when it’s finished,” laughed Svanvik, adding, “But it’s going well and with Mervyn coming to help it has been really wonderful — he is very skillful and experienced.”
Svanvik noted having the pole at NISS will be a monument to cooperation, history, and tradition.
“Ours is a living culture and we are very proud of that,” Svanvik said. “All the children that attend the school will benefit from seeing this part of the history that lives on.”
NISS Principal Jay Dixon said students throughout the school are busy preparing for the May 17 celebration.
“Our students around the building are getting quite excited and there is a lot of learning happening in terms of tradition, celebration, and union,” noted Dixon. “Our outdoor education classes, our English classes, our social studies classes — they are all finding a way to fit in learning around it.”
Dixon said NISS is inviting all schools and communities on the North Island to attend the May 17 ceremony.
“Everyone is all hands on deck and it’s exciting to see everyone work together,” said NISS’ Cultural Teacher Tamara Alfred, adding, “The hype and the energy and the buzz around the school is growing — it’s going to be a very beautiful day.”
Alfred, who is also a former NISS student, said she wished she had a similar experience when she was a student. “It’s going to be the first ever! These kids are really lucky.”
She noted they will also be inviting “All of the hereditary chiefs, band councils, and students’ families” to attend the ceremony.
Dixon said he expects 600-1,000 people to attend the ceremony, which will take place on the front lawn and parking lot of the school from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
The carvers of the original 1970s NISS totem pole (which still stands in front of the high school to this very day) have also been invited to attend the ceremony.
To accommodate the number of people invited, NISS has been granted a road closure from Port McNeill council for the portion of the road directly in front of the school.
“It’s changing our narrative moving forward,” said Dixon of the totem pole, “It’s a good starting point and we still have a lot of work to do together.”
Svanvik said time will tell what the pole signifies to people in the community, but he thinks it will “Have a special place in people’s thoughts and hearts.”
The project would not 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 as well as sponsers Western Forest Products, Artstarts in Schools’, and Ocra Sand and Gravel.