Future of an 800-year-old totem may be in doubt due to lack of funding

WatchHundreds of hours of work may be lost transforming an 800-year-old log into a towering totem in the Alberni Valley. As Skye Ryan reports, the totem was meant to symbolize the rebirth of Indigenous languages on the coast but lack of money may soon silence that message.

For months, Port Alberni resident Tim Paul has been carving away at a 40 tonne, 800-year-old log, bringing new life to a totem to symbolize the rebirth of Indigenous languages that have been dying on the coast.

Les Doiron with the First Nations Education Foundation said in many communities, only a few elders speak their once native language fluently.

“Every time an elder passes they take that knowledge and wisdom. It’s gone,” Doiron said.

Tim Carver, a master carver, is working to preserve the future for his family.

“What we’re doing is we’re bringing this back to life for the likes of my grandson there,” Carver said.

Paul’s nine-year-old grandson is watching and learning every step of the way, along with receiving daily lessons in his Indigenous language.

“If language is going to take hold of our families up and down the coast it has to come from the home,” Carver said.

This totem is being carved to revive First Nation language speaking and was scheduled to be raised at UVic this fall, but it has hit its own rough patch.

“The federal government had thrown 50 million dollars into Indigenous languages and cultures and such.  Apparently, this project doesn’t qualify for it. So it’s a little frustrating,” Doiron said.

Completion of the project is now in jeopardy though after funding fell through.

“We had funding in place. We thought all the ducks were lined up all the rest of that stuff and that didn’t materialize. It sort of fell apart,” Doiron said.

The First Nations Education Foundation has appealed to provincial and federal officials. But so far, has received no assurances.  They say if they don’t receive $50,000 in the next two weeks, they won’t be able to make the deadline to have the totem and engineering work completed at UVic for it to be raised in the fall.

“And it means a lot to our people so we need to keep doing it,” Doiron said.

So an urgent appeal for funds has gone out.  In hopes of saving this hopeful symbol for dying languages from being silenced too.

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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