Totem pole installed on Nuu-chah-nulth territory in Port Alberni

Totem pole installed on Nuu-chah-nulth territory in Port Alberni

A totem pole that pays tribute to the importance of Indigenous language and culture has been installed on Nuu-chah-nulth territory.

On Saturday (Sept. 18), members of the Tseshaht First Nation along with representatives from the First Nations Education Foundation unveiled a brand new totem pole on the site of San Group property at the bottom of Roger Street, where it meets the Victoria Quay near the mouth of Roger Creek.

Called the Language Revitalization Pole, it was created by lead carver Tim Paul along with his carving team and is part of a project by the First Nations Education Foundation that aims to bring awareness to the importance of Indigenous language and culture within Canadian communities.

“I think the pole means different things to different people. There was a lot of conversation today about the relationships with communities and with Nuu-chah-nulth communities and what that meant,” said Scott Jeary, executive director of the First Nations Education Foundation. “We’ve been amplifying the message around the importance of language revitalization, and the intimate relationship between language, culture and art. And for us, we’ve been able to have this work of art to help us anchor that message.”

The pole project was first initiated by the First Nations Education Foundation — a Vancouver-based organization that aims to preserve and revitalize at-risk Indigenous languages — in 2018 as part of the United Nations 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages. The project recently received a $75,000 donation from the Canada Arts Council, as well as donations from sponsors and organizations including Western Forest Products, Christopher Devlin, and BMO.

Jeary said although the project began in 2018, it faced a series of delays due to the coronavirus pandemic and that after more than two years, he’s thrilled to see it finally installed.

“It’s an absolute joy to have it and to see it raised. The project has certainly been challenging,” he said, adding. “Of course, we had, like everybody, COVID, and that was a massive interruption to the project, and then to have everything come together the way it has and to have the community collaborate on a location to have it raised, I’m very grateful to have that standing now.”

According to the FNEF, there are approximately 60 Indigenous languages, each with unique dialects, histories, and cultural traditions, but nearly three-quarters of those languages are at risk of being lost within this generation.

“Language revitalization and culture is pivotal to a community’s existence. It is the community, it is who you are as a person, wherever you’re from,” said Jeary, adding. “Supporting in any way possible, a community’s work is worthwhile and whether that’s Indigenous land … or when you see funding announced for language revitalization, it is a really important use of funds.”

Jeary said in recent years, there has been a far broader awareness within the general public about the decline of Indigenous languages and their importance within their communities and the country as a whole.

“I think that there’s a lot more awareness amongst the general public, in particular,” he said. “The United Nations declaring it the Year of Indigenous Languages caused more people to become aware and then the formation of the Indigenous Languages Council, here in Canada, focusing on the importance of language work.”

School curriculums have been developed for a number of Indigenous languages in B.C., including some on Vancouver Island, and there has been an effort in recent years to preserve Indigenous languages across the Island, which has been helped by advances in technology.

“Technology is actually a fabulous benefit to the work when you’re talking about the intergenerational transmission of language and culture and knowledge from elders to the next generation,” said Jeary. “We have to remember that it is being transferred by elders and there certainly is an aging demographic that has to be considered. So with technology that’s available, elders now have a way of communicating to that next generation.”

However, while progress has been made, there is still plenty of work to be done. Jeary said for the First Nations Education Foundation, such work includes engaging and helping community language experts develop the resources needed to help keep the languages and cultures alive.

“It really is just engaging and helping community language experts put together the resources that they don’t have readily available,” explained Jeary, later adding. “It’s the support and awareness of how important language and culture is to a community, any community. But let’s recognize here in Canada how important that is and recognize the fact that it was very strategically attempted to be removed from the community. People are kind of playing catch up a little bit here now.”

[email protected]

RELATED: First Peoples’ Cultural Council launches new interactive map showcasing Indigenous cultures

Nicholas PescodNicholas Pescod

Recent Stories

Send us your news tips and videos!