Youth carve out a bond with First Nations’ culture

Hundreds on hand to see raising of final totem pole in front of the Native Friendship Centre

First Nations people gathered at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre to celebrate the raising of a new 6

First Nations people gathered at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre to celebrate the raising of a new 6

When Moy Sutherland led the raising of the third and final totem pole in front of the Native Friendship Centre last Thursday, he didn’t see it as the end of a project, only the beginning.

Sutherland’s voice boomed through the mic as he guided more than 100 youth and members of the community who lined along Regina Avenue in front of the centre. Slowly, they pulled the 6,000-pound Qweesh-hicheelth pole with a 200-foot-long rope, hand-over-hand, through a pulley until it stood straight. It stands beside two other totem poles as all three nations of the Island are represented, the Nuu-chan-nulth nation of Western Vancouver Island, the Coast Salish (Southern Island) and the Kwakwaaka’wakw (Eastern Vancouver Island).

“There’s lots of room out here for more, this is not the end,” Sutherland said. “When we made this, we also started an army of new carvers.”

The pole carries many tales of Nuu-chan-nulth legend. At the top, a thunderbird transforms into a human, while at the bottom, a killer whale transforms into a wolf. The wolf’s head is situated where the whale’s blow hole would be, and within that is a human figure, representing the Wolf Society, a group of Nuu-chan-nulth warriors who would deal with the dead, organize funerals and act as police.

Qweesh-hicheelth is Nuu-chan-nulth for transformation, and Sutherland, who is Nuu-chan-nulth, sees the transformation that’s happened  throughout the project, and beyond. In September, the 42-year-old master carver and artist started alone, trimming the massive red cedar from Ehattesaht (in Esperanza Sound) into a flat-back totem pole, 26 feet long. In November, he took on a crew that included at-risk youth who knew nothing of carving, and spent the past four-and-a-half months teaching them, and together they completed the project.

“This was all about empowerment for youth from the start,” said Sutherland. “We used hand tools, and it slowed the process, but at the end I could say ‘go carve this area flat,’ and they would know how to do it.”

All the tools were hand made by “Iron Jake” James, the Metchosin blacksmith who also anchored the finished pole to its cement base. Sutherland then ordered a set for each member of the team, and gifted them upon completion.

“There were a lot of cuts to begin with,” Sutherland recalled.

As a teen, Sutherland left his home in Gordon Head for a life on the streets. Instead of Lambrick Park secondary, he spent the ages of 13 to 20 learning a different life.

“I didn’t carve anything until I was 19, that was a start,” he said. “There was something about when you finish something, and everyone appreciates it, that was very fulfilling.”

Through art, Sutherland learned the cultural history of his people. And now he encourages youth to explore the history of their own people.

“I tell them, go learn, and let’s stand that up [as a pole].”

One of the crew members was Tejas Collison, 24, who didn’t expect to work on the pole. Collison lives in Esquimalt and is apprenticing with master carver Carey Newman, who built the first two poles at the Friendship Centre. Collison actually worked on the Coast Salish, which was raised in 2014. So when it came to crunch time, Sutherland put the word out, and Newman assigned Collison to help out.

“I tried to assist where need be with sharpening of tools, sanding and other rudimentary skills, and focused on the features of the killer whale,” Collison said.

It’s that kind of team mentality that has Travis Peal, 33, excited to carry on.

After years in the Canadian Navy, Peal left to study electrical training at Camosun College. He recently finished his studies but without work, he visited the Native Friendship Centre one day looking to volunteer.

A member inside of the Friendship Centre told Peal there was a project going on out back.

“I talked to Moy and literally threw my bag down and started carving,” Peal said. “It was a lot better than waiting for the phone to ring.”

The experience ignited Peal’s ‘inner-native.’ He’s from the Nisga’a village of New Aiyansh but after years in the Navy, then in college, he hadn’t been around a First Nations culture to speak of.

“I appreciate the way we all connected on the project, and the way that I connected with my own cultural history,” Peal said. “It’s why the Friendship Centre is here, for Natives from anywhere in Canada to connect with each other.”

Sutherland’s vision has now moved from building a totem pole, to erecting a traditional big house on site at the Friendship Centre, instead of the tent used by Newman and himself.

“A place to store tools, and for this crew to carve, and to train more to carve. There’s no place around to train carvers, so let’s do it here.”

 

reporter@saanichnews.com

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An Oak Bay Police officer handed out five tickets for “fail to obey stop sign” and two tickets for using a cell phone while driving, all within two hours at King George Terrace on Jan. 11. (Oak Bay Police Twitter)
Man confronts unmasked group at Oak Bay Marina

Oak Bay police issue plenty of tickets in short King George Terrace visit

Registered nurse Sammy Mullally displayed a tray of supplies to be used by a drug addict at the Insite safe injection clinic in Vancouver, B.C., in 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Councillors call on Saanich to address overdose crisis, explore options for safe consumption sites

‘There’s no vaccine for this problem,’ new action is needed, councillors say

Victoria Police Department vehicles outside the headquarters building. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bastion Square attack leaves victim with life-altering injuries

Victoria police looking for witnesses, information

A Sooke woman is speaking up after she was almost tricked by a lottery scam, claiming she had won $950,000 with Set for Life Lottery. (File Photo)
‘I wanted it to be true so badly’: Sooke woman almost falls for lottery scam

88-year-old received letter stating she had won $950,000

NEW CUTLINE Pacific FC fans fill the stands during a game at the former Westhills Stadium
 Starlight Developments has purchased the naming rights from the City of Langford for the next 10 years.(Gazette file photo)

Pacific FC slid into third place in the league after defeating FC Edmonton 1-0 at Westhills Stadium on Saturday. (Shalu Mehta/News Staff)
Langford sells stadium naming rights for $500,000 to Starlight Developments

10-year sponsorship deal largest in the history of Langford, says mayor

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

A Trail man has a lucky tin for a keepsake after it saved him from a stabbing last week. File photo
Small tin in Kootenay man’s jacket pocket saved him from stabbing: RCMP

The man was uninjured thanks to a tin in his jacket

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Chantel Moore, 26, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check in the early morning of June 4, 2020, in Edmundston, N.B. (Facebook)
Frustrated family denied access to B.C. Indigenous woman’s police shooting report

Independent investigation into B.C. woman’s fatal shooting in New Brunswick filed to Crown

Delta Police Constable Jason Martens and Dezi, a nine-year-old German Shepherd that recently retired after 10 years with Delta Police. (Photo submitted)
Dezi, a Delta police dog, retires on a high note after decade of service

Nine-year-old German Shepherd now fights over toys instead of chasing down bad guys

Nurses collect samples from a patient in a COVID suspect room in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
5 British Columbians under 20 years old battled COVID-19 in ICU in recent weeks

Overall hospitalizations have fallen but young people battling the virus in hospital has increased

Canada released proposed regulations Jan. 2 for the fisheries minister to maintain Canada’s major fish stocks at sustainable levels and recover those at risk. (File photo)
New laws would cement DFO accountability to depleted fish stocks

Three B.C. salmon stocks first in line for priority attention under proposed regulations

Trees destroyed a Shoreacres home during a wind storm Jan. 13, 2021. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay woman flees just before tree crushes house

Pamala DeRosa is thankful to be alive

Gin, one of the Kantymirs’ two sheep. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)
Sheep start up ATV, sit in cars and go for walks in Salmon Arm

Until they bought two sheep, Ken and Karleen Kantymir didin’t realize just how social the animals are

Heather Lucier, a pastor at Kelowna Harvest Fellowship, speaks to an RCMP officer outside of Harvest Ministries on Sunday, Jan. 10. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna church fined 2nd time for violating public health order

Harvest Ministries in Kelowna has previously said they will fight the tickets in court

Most Read