The last of three totem poles is now on display at Vancouver Island University.
A beautifully carved totem pole representing the Kwakwaka’wakw Territories was officially unveiled during a special ceremony at VIU yesterday that was witnessed by hundreds of people, including school faculty members, international students and elders.
The Kwakwaka’wakw totem pole, which was carved by Tom Hunt Jr., joins two other totem poles representing the Coast Salish and Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations in front of the university’s Shq’apthut Aboriginal Gathering Place building.
The poles are part of a unique initiative called the VIU Totem Pole Project that began two years ago and aims to bring aboriginals and non-aboriginals together in a positive learning environment.
Speaking to a large crowd, Ralph Nilson, university president, said the totem poles are meant to show First Nations communities that the school is a supportive and inclusive learning environment for all people.
“By sharing together and by respecting each other and learning from each other, we can continue to grow as communities and continue to put some of that absolutely tragic history behind us and move forward with education as a fundamental tool of emancipation for all the [First Nations] communities,” he said.
Nilson, who referenced a report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said it’s important for the university to listen to First Nations people and that the poles are a step forward in the healing process.
“One of the things that we as an institution have to do is listen. We have to listen and we have to listen again because we have so much to learn,” he said. “What I really appreciate about the opportunities that we as an institution have is that the communities have been willing to share, willing to help us understand and continue to provide us with the opportunities to move forward together.”
Speaking to the News Bulletin afterwards, Hunt said everything represented on the pole holds a significant meaning to him and the Kwakwaka’wakw and that it is a gift to the school and future generations.
“To me, it is a gift from my people to the university, the kids and the students here,” Hunt said.
He said he hopes the totem pole inspires the younger generation to embrace their heritage and culture and to share it.
“We grew up with culture and for us to be able to share culture more freely today [is important],” he said.