TERRACE, British Columbia – The Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art at Northwest Community College unveiled a grizzly and eagle totem pole to elders, dignitaries and guests. At the Jan. 27 totem pole blessing ceremony, elders laid their hands on the pole as Sam Lockerby and Bossy Bolton blessed the historic pole. The finished piece is destined for the Sichuan province of China and, in particular, to the indigenous Qiang people who were severely impacted by an earthquake in May 2008.
Approximately 32,000 Qiang live in Sichuan and their district is situated near Beichuan city. The city, its infrastructure and temples were completely destroyed. During a British Columbia First Nations Forestry Council trade mission to China shortly after the earthquake, First Nations leaders were witness to the terrible devastation that occurred.
As a result of this mission, the idea of carving a tribute pole was born. The federal government and the Province of British Columbia donated $8 million to aid relief efforts in Sichuan province. These funds supported the creation of an elder’s center and two schools. Significant rebuilding efforts are still underway.
The pole is a gift from the First Nations people of Canada to the Qiang people and will be raised at the site of the new schools built with Canadian money. “This is the first time in history that a totem pole has been given as a gift to an indigenous group in China and it carries great significance,” said Stephanie Forsyth, NWCC president. “Not only does it hold significant cultural meaning, it represents a bridging of two countries, and hope for healing and recovery.”
Grand Chief Ed John of the First Nations Summit was part of the trade mission to China and was instrumental in getting the totem pole project off the ground. At the tribute pole blessing, he noted that the Freda Diesing School was the logical candidate to undertake the pole project because of its focus on First Nations fine arts and because students would be involved in the carving.
“This effort showcases the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art and its role in the redevelopment and rebuilding of First Nations art that’s world renowned,” John said. “The pole project gives support to the students, and will help to elevate their status as carvers.”
The totem pole bears the design of grizzly bear and eagle, two animals that hold significance to many First Nations across Canada, said Freda Diesing School Coordinator Stan Bevan. He designed and shaped the grizzly, and was assisted by former students, Jackie McNeil and Brian McKee. The eagle was designed and shaped by fellow instructor Ken McNeil and carved with help from two other alumni, Titus Auckland and Darryl Moore.
“The significance of this gift is the contribution of First Nations of Canada that have reached out a helping hand to indigenous people on the other side of the world,” Bevan said. “This project marks a significant highlight for the Freda Diesing School and it will represent a legacy for students and the school.”
NWCC College Board of Governors Chair Irene Seguin said the event was a momentous occasion for the college. “History was made today. To have a pole carved by these instructors and students, for the purpose of sending a symbol of connection, healing and strength to indigenous people in another country, is extraordinary.”
Dignitaries joining John included representatives for British Columbia Forests and Range Minister Pat Bell, the federal government and the Consulate General of China. The Grand Chief said he is working with the federal and provincial governments to get the pole to Sichuan province as early as this spring.