For the past few months, master carver Tom Lafortune and his brother Perry have been carving an eight meter pole, donated by Timberwest, outside the Royal BC Museum. The project is in partnership with the Ministry of Health.
“I’ve been carving for 47 years, and I’ve always wondered why there was no Coast Salish art being done here” says LaFortune.
“This is where we live as Coast Salish people, and this is one that’s out in the forefront as a Coast Salish pole. And I’m grateful for that.”
Hannah Morales is the museum’s cultural learning program facilitator.
“A lot of people” says Morales, “when they visit the Royal BC Museum, feel that our culture is something of the past. But having this [carving program] right at the forefront, right at the front doors of our museum, really shows that our culture is alive and thriving today.”
The pole’s theme is Crossing Cultures and Healing.
“The elderly woman in this pole,” says LaFortune, “it’s our mother, because she’s been the strength in our lives.
“To us, it represents her, but in this pole it represents all the elderly women – our ancestors, who give us our teachings, who share with us what they have learned in their life. Without them we wouldn’t be here.”
As they carve, the brothers, members of the Tsawout First Nation, talk with those watching their creation. The conversation sometimes turns to truth and reconciliation and the tragedy of residential schools, which their mother was forced to attend.
“A very good percentage have no idea” says LaFortune. “I mean, they’ve seen the stuff on the news, but they don’t understand what that’s about until they come and start chatting with us.”
Lafortune will help them understand the past, but will also talk about moving forward.
“You know, you don’t forget the past, it’s always there, but you have to get past it. You have to get by it, and the present is where we’re working to be stronger. That has made us a stronger people.”
“We’ve had a lot of people say that this project is really opening their eyes” says Morales. “This pole is such a great opportunity to bring people together, and be able to learn from one another.”
The Crossing Cultures and Healing pole will be completed in October, and will stand outside Victoria’s Ministry of Health building.