Students are helping carve the finishing touches on the new 20-foot-totem pole that will stand directly in front of North Island Secondary school (NISS).
“It’s been educational,” said grade 10 NISS student John Bruce as he worked on carving out an eye during a sunny April 24 afternoon. “You learn a lot when you do it. There’s always something you learn when you do it.”
Since last year ‘Namgis Chief and artist, Don Svanvik, has been working with students to carve the totem pole. Now with the help of Kwakiutl artist Mervyn Child and NISS students, the pole is in its final stages.
Grade nine student Jakob Dawson said he’s been coming to carve the pole during his electives almost every day.
“I get to laugh around and listen to music, relax, feel the breeze,” said Dawson, when asked why he likes to spend his time carving.
“It’s pretty difficult carving at first because you have to learn how to control the knife and you have to learn how to get certain amounts off and rounding edges,” said Dawson, “But I like it a lot. If you don’t want to be talking to anyone in your class you can come out here and carve and talk to Don and Mervyn.”
Dawson added he’s become more interested in carving since working on the pole and would like to start doing more in the future.
“When you are just starting out it’s just a block of wood and when you are done it’s beautiful hand-carved art. You are supposed to be happy when you are carving, you are supposed to put good positive energy into it,” noted Dawson. “That’s what I like about it. You can just come out here laugh around and be happy.”
The totem pole will be erected at a traditional raising ceremony at NISS on May 17, which will be attended by an estimated 600 to 1,000 people. All North Island communities have been invited, as well as hereditary chiefs, band councils, and all NISS students and their families.
“It’s going to be pretty amazing to see the pole get standed, knowing that we got to carve on it and that we did it ourselves,” said Dawson.
The totem pole project is supported by the First Peoples’ Cultural Council’s Arts Program and the U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay as well as sponsors Western Forest Products, Artstarts in Schools’, and Ocra Sand and Gravel.