A totem representing the Snuneymuxw First Nation story of the start of humanity now graces Vancouver Island University’s new health and science centre.
A ceremony to unveil the Te’tuxwtun (Mount Benson) pole took place at the building Saturday with song and traditional dances, including the frog dance. William Good, Snuneymuxw artist, said he carved the pole from red cedar, which is considered the most sacred. What is represented in the totem is like a form of writing and at the top is a supernatural eagle, followed by one of the first peoples and a frog, he said.
The supernatural eagle is communicator between this world and heaven, which brings people to heaven when they are deceased and is an important part of the culture, Good said, while Te’tuxwtun is the name of one of the first peoples in the area.
“Te’tuxwtun landed on Mount Benson after the great flood and [he] lived on top of Mount Benson when he built a longhouse and he had two sons and one day they saw smoke coming from Stlillup, which is Departure Bay … he sent his two sons down to investigate what the smoke was about and where it was coming from and who was there and when they arrived there, the two young men met the people living at Stlillup that had moved [there] and the man and woman at Stlillup had two daughters and eventually [they] married, so that was the beginning of some of our first peoples of the Snuneymuxw area,” said Good.
The Snuneymuxw carver said the frog is almost always found on the bottom of totem poles.
“The elders that have passed away told me it has to have a frog on the bottom because it’s very important,” said Good. “It’s a bringer of good luck and good fortune and we have a frog song in my family … and my grandchildren and great-grandchildren danced the frog dance today and when we were singing and when they threw their arms out, they were throwing good luck and food fortune to all the people that were here and good fortune to this facility.”
Carol Stuart, VIU associate vice-president academic, said the post-secondary institution strongly believes in acknowledging indigenous peoples and the addition of the totem exemplifies that.
“The totem was designed to welcome students to Te’tuxwtun, which has such an important history for the people,” Stuart said in an e-mail. “This is the reason it faces the main doors and welcomes them to the building.”
The multimillion dollar, four-storey health and science centre opened this past fall and houses VIU’s health care, chemistry and nursing programs.