Kwakiutl First Nation master carver Stan Hunt is hard at work creating an 18-foot monument in remembrance of Indigenous children who were abused and died while attending residential schools.
After the remains of up to 215 people were discovered at an unmarked site at a former Kamloops Indian Residential School in May of 2021, the detection of hundreds more suspected graves connected to residential schools across Canada soon followed.
It’s now a year later and the reckoning over the legacy of residential schools for Indigenous children is still being felt.
“Last year I did a memorial totem pole of a bear holding a cub for my good friend Ray Bergen and his granddaughter,” Hunt said when asked how the project began. “That was when all the stuff came out about finding the graves at the residential schools.”
Hunt noted Bergen, who is a well-known businessman and a philanthropist based out of Vancouver, got together with two of his business partners for their monthly meeting and discussed what they could do to memorialize the graves that were being found on residential school grounds.
“That was when they asked me if I’d be interested in a doing a memorial for the children, and I said of course I would.”
Hunt says when the monument is finished it will stand 18 feet tall by four feet in diameter with a giant raven on top with the seed of life in its beak, and there will be children’s faces all the way to the bottom.
“There will only be two colours, black and orange,” he said, adding the children’s faces will be traditionally carved and black-washed. “It’s to mark a very dark part of Canadian history, and I don’t want to insult anybody that was involved in this, but we are going to recognize who they were and what happened.”
Apprentice carver Rey Dickie is helping Hunt create the monument. He said he’s proud to be working on such an important piece of art with his uncle.
“It’s quite an honour to be able to do something of this magnitude for all the Indigenous people who were affected by residential schools,” he said. “This is for them.”
“It isn’t just for our village, it’s for all the First Nations people across Canada,” added Hunt.
They’re aiming to have the project finished in about six to seven months and will be touring it across Vancouver Island before it’s finally shipped off to Vancouver. Its longterm location is still to be determined.
“It will be in a public place,” Hunt said. “I know they are looking at high profile places. We’ll see.”