Two Thunderbird Park totem poles going back to home communities

Two Thunderbird Park totem poles going back to home communities

A replica Kwakwaka’wakw pole has stood tall at Thunderbird Park since 1954 but after decades of exposure to the elements, it has reached the end of its life cycle.

“Now it is taking its rest and we are very grateful that it’s served its purpose in educating the community about how important and how valuable these sacred pieces are to our people,” said BC Museum Indigenous Cultural Liaison with the BC Museum, Leslie McGarry.

The pole is the work of master carver Mungo Martin. Its a replica of a Kwakwaka’wakw house post carved in 1870. But engineers found it had rotted from the inside and was a danger to the public.

On Friday, dancers and drummers dressed in traditional robes and headdresses performed a cleansing ceremony to clear the area of negative energy before the pole came down.

It was secured, lifted, and moved, gently lowered and lightly placed on its back.

The carvings on the pole represent figures from the bottom of the ocean.

“Because if you reel a halibut up to next to your boat because of the change of water pressure by the time it gets to your boat the eyes are bulging same thing here it represents a parallel universe,” said McGarry.

In the coming weeks, the pole will be returned to the community of Fort Rupert.

The BC Museum returning the pole is in the spirit of reconciliation and repatriation.

“All of the poles are all storytellers and history keepers we didn’t have a written language until fairly recently this was our language this is the way we recorded our history,” said McGarry.

A Haida mortuary pole has also been deemed unsafe and will be taken down next week. That one will be returned to Quatsino on the northern tip of Vancouver Island where members of the Quatsino First Nation will decide how to lay the pole to rest.

“These poles going back is a strong statement to museums in the world I think,” said Lucy Bell, head of the Indigenous Collections and Repatriation department for the Royal BC Museum.

The chief in Fort Rupert happens to be carver Mungo Martin’s great-grandson and he will facilitate the next stage in the poles’ journeys. Most likely it will be left to decompose with the elements.

The pole will go back to the earth like it was meant to,” said Bell. 

Luisa AlvarezLuisa Alvarez

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