In a heartfelt and meaningful ceremony on Tuesday, October 20th, more than 150 Powell River and Sliammon community members came together in a gesture of reconciliation to hear stories, pay respect and give humble thanks for the creation of a new Totem pole now standing at the centre of Sycamore Commons permaculture garden in Townsite.
Anglican Church elders, Sliammon First Nations elders, drummers, residential school survivors, filmmakers, gardeners, chefs and residents all took part in the late afternoon ceremony which was attended by multi-generations of residents. Joyful children wove in and out of the crowd unaware of a the seriousness of topics discussed, adding an element of hope for the future to the solemn event.
The majestic pole was carved from the remains of a 40′ Cypress cedar tree that once towered over the parent Anglican Church. Local artist and carver Ivan Rosypskye recalled being asked to carve the stump. “At first I would look at it and wonder what I had gotten myself into,” he said. “Usually you carve a totem lying down, but this tree was upright which posed a whole different set of issues.” Eventually Ivan borrowed a set of tools from friend Bert Finnamore, also heritage manager of PR Museum, and the task resumed normal proportions.
During the month it took to create the totem pole, Ivan had the help of a core group of friends including fellow weaver and carver Phil Russell and helper, Nansi MacKay. More than 100 people dropped by the site, picking up tools and helping with the carving, or bringing food and drinks to the artists at work. “I want to thank the people who helped me,” Ivan said. “Richard Baker, Art Thompson, your help means a lot to me.”
At the top of the totem is the sun, a special feature requested by a friend. “It has great significance, Ivan explained, it provides life to all. Five salmon make their way up the back of the carving signifying the five species of salmon that provide food on the coast. There’s a killer whale, the protector of the sea and a bear, the protector of the forest.
In the very middle of the totem pole is a brick, a remnant of St. Michael’s, a residential school in Alert Bay. Ivan said he wanted to incorporate the brick into the base of the totem, but his good friend James O’Sullivan suggested the brick be put right in the middle, at eye level. “He said the brick should be seen as just an interruption, that’s all. You want it right in your face, so you remember. It’s holding a lot of pain. My mother was taken away for ten or eleven years, my granny, my aunts and my uncles. No one talked much about it, but the pain it stayed with us all.”
Ian MacKenzie and Paula Samson, both wearing button blankets, spoke eloquently about the implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the sad, repressed past of First Nations peoples that is only now being recognized by mainstream Canada. “This is not a commemoration of the past,” Paula said, “But the sign of a dawn of a new time, after colonization, to make churches what they ought to be and to proceed with hope.”
Following the ceremony all participants joined hands in a large circle around the totem and were led in song by One Voice Choir leader Julia Adam before enjoying a hot dinner prepared by the women of the Anglican Church.