A new totem pole has been unveiled to the public at the government building at 1515 Blanshard St. in Victoria, which houses the ministries of Health and Mental Health and Addictions.
The totem is a symbol of government’s commitment to ongoing and meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous British Columbians.
“Throughout the carving process this summer, there was an excellent learning opportunity for the public to witness First Nations cultural practices,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “And we know that this increased understanding of Indigenous culture is a high priority for all levels of government, particularly within the health-care system, as we focus on providing the culturally safe care people depend on every day.”
The pole's theme is Crossing Cultures and Healing and was carved by artists Tom and Perry LaFortune, brothers and members of the Tsawout First Nation. The pole is a partnership between the Royal BC Museum, the Ministry of Health, Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, and supported by TimberWest. The public was invited to share in the artists’ journey as they roughed out the pole and then carved it throughout the summer at the Royal BC Museum’s outdoor upper plaza.
“I am so humbled and honoured that this totem pole stands before our ministries’ building as a symbol of our government’s commitment to reconciliation,” said Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “We are working closely with our Indigenous partners to ensure their priorities, wisdom and experience remain at the centre of decisions around mental health and wellness. Genuine reconciliation demands nothing less.”
This totem pole project is an example of government’s commitment to a true and lasting reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Indigenous languages, world views, culture and heritage are integral to the health and wellness of Indigenous peoples and enrich the lives of all residents.
The carvers explain that the totem pole displays from the top down:
- Raven: messenger of good news;
- Owl: ability to see in both worlds, the past, present and future;
- Frog: conscience of the community;
- Woman: grandmother who teaches respect, humility, and resilience; and,
- Rope: connects the figures together for strength and continuity.
Government recognizes the importance of culture in achieving optimum health and wellness and is working to provide culturally safe and appropriate services for all Indigenous peoples. That is why the B.C. government has committed to adopting and implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which has been accepted by 148 nations, including the Government of Canada.
Health authorities have worked with First Nations, Métis and Indigenous partners to develop action and implementation plans to improve cultural safety and humility across their organizations, have hired Indigenous patient navigators and have undertaken cultural safety training. The Ministry of Health and regional health authorities continue to partner with Indigenous nations and Indigenous health-serving organizations to ensure health policies and programs are culturally safe and appropriate for all Indigenous peoples.
Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation –
“This powerful carving symbolizes reconciliation in action. Our governments, institutions and citizens all have roles to play in understanding our shared history, and working together to heal and build a better future for all British Columbians.”
Katie Hooper, executive director, Esquimalt Nation –
“There is a belief in Esquimalt Nation’s culture that healing is rooted in the Teachings and Natural Laws, which flow from the Sacred Trust. The Sacred Trust determines the relationships between the land, water and resources, the Community, and the Spiritual Path. The Sacred Trust is passed on to generation through oral teachings and art. This totem pole project aligns with the Esquimalt Nation’s belief that healing can be created from the art of sharing. This project embodies representations that reflect the Nation’s own struggles, while empowering our Members to persevere toward a better future.”
Jack Lohman, CEO, Royal BC Museum –
“We were honoured to host the LaFortune brothers this summer as they carved the pole and spoke of their work with thousands of museum visitors. The Royal BC Museum promotes and advances knowledge of the history and cultures of the province. The carving program allowed us to draw a line from the past to the present, showcasing a vital Indigenous cultural tradition and world view that thrives today.”
Jeff Zweig, president and CEO, TimberWest –
“Tom and Perry LaFortune have carved a magnificent totem, which will stand for generations for all to experience. TimberWest is honoured to have worked with Tom and Perry, the Royal BC Museum and the Ministry of Health in support of the Crossing Cultures and Healing carving project.”
- The pole is a 300-year-old red cedar and originally stood at seven metres (25 feet) pre-carving.
- It was donated by TimberWest and selected by the LaFortune brothers, who were nominated as the program carvers during early consultations with the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations.
- The LaFortune brothers came up with Crossing Cultures and Healing as a theme to pay tribute to the matriarchs in Indigenous cultures.
- Totem poles are monuments created by First Nations of the Pacific Northwest to represent and commemorate ancestry, histories, people or events.
- Totem poles are typically created out of red cedar.
- Most totem poles stand between three to 18 metres tall, although some can reach over 20 metres in height.
Visit the Royal BC Museum page on the pole carving project: https://royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/visit/events/pole-carving