Tim Paul, head carver, with assistant Cecil Dawson as carving began in spring. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

Port Alberni language pole becomes ‘spiritual journey’

Funding shortfall could prove to be saving grace for project

MIKE YOUDS

SPECIAL TO THE NEWS

UPDATE: The First Nations Education Foundation (FNEF) announced on Nov. 5 that it has agreed to keep the Language Revitalization Pole in Port Alberni in response to increasing community calls for it to remain in the city. The carving phase of the project is approaching completion and the next phase, in which the pole will be raised, will follow in 2020.

Despite major hurdles over the last six months, the hewing of an Indigenous language revitalization pole has grown into a spiritual journey for carvers and a catalyst for community.

At a work site provided by the Port Alberni Port Authority (PAPA) next to the Maritime Museum, a team of volunteers under the direction of Nuu-chah-nulth carver Tim Paul has transformed a fallen 800-year-old cedar recovered from the woods near Bamfield last winter.

WATCH: 800-year-old carving log arrives in Port Alberni

With support from volunteers, they’ve done “radical surgery” on the partly decayed log, chiselled 10 Nuu-chah-nulth relatives from its wood and brought the effort close to completion despite a lack of funding.

“It’s been amazing to watch the carvers at work and to watch it emerge from the wood,” said Ken Watson, president of the Maritime Heritage Society, which hosted a public update on Oct. 24.

Jeff Cook, a hereditary Huu-ay-aht chief who attended residential school in Port Alberni, fully appreciates the pole’s importance. At age six, he understood Nuu-chah-nulth but lost his language when taken from his community at age six.

“It was heart-wrenching for my parents,” he recalled. “It was a traumatic experience for a six-year-old. This is why we want to renew our culture.”

Cook described the pole as an attempt to symbolize cultural renewal. As such, it makes people think about the long journey and resilience of the Nuu-chah-nulth people.

First Nations Education Foundation (FNEF), a not-for-profit group focused on reversing the loss of Indigenous languages, commissioned the pole in recognition of 2019 as UN International Year of Indigenous Languages. Huu-ay-aht First Nations gifted the 70-foot, 60,000-lb. log to the FNEF last winter before it was trucked to the harbour work site.

READ MORE: Language revitalization pole project runs out of money

At the outset, the pole was destined for UVic, yet funds initially earmarked for the $420,000 project were somehow diverted to another institutional priority. Concerned that a shortfall could jeopardize the project, FNEF issued a plea for donations in July. That attracted greater community support and the pole’s ultimate destination remains open to discussion, Cook said.

“It was never about funding,” said assistant carver Cecil Dawson, a Dzawada’enuxw First Nation carver who has worked with Paul on past projects. “Do it from the heart and do it to make people feel good,” he added, quoting Paul.

Travellers from all over have visited the work site. Two in particular imbued the pole with greater spiritual power for the carvers. Blessings came from Leroy Little Bear of the Blood Reserve Blackfoot Confederacy in Alberta and Rose Thater Braan-Imai of Tuscarora Six Nations in California. That changed everything, Dawson said.

He believes the tree, which grew to maturity when Nuu-chah-nulth peoples thrived along the west coast, was predestined to bring stories of the past to the future. Centred around 10 Nuu-chah-nulth relatives embodied in elements of nature, the pole designed by Paul speaks of caring for the Earth, the land and water, “everything,” Dawson explained.

To tie such a vision to money alone would be to diminish its meaning. Instead, challenges have become integral to the journey. The more that carvers welcomed others to the site, the more the pole became a community project.

“We had to put Humpty Dumpty back together again,” Dawson said. “That speaks for our language as well as the pole.”

Discussions with UVic continue even as local support grows for keeping the pole in Port Alberni. Sponsors and donors are sought for a food and fashion fundraiser on Nov. 22, 6-9 p.m. at the Italian Hall. Tickets, $65, are available online through Eventbrite.

“Wherever it’s going, it’s going to be OK,” Dawson said. “It’s pulled us together as a community. It’s pulled us together as Port Alberni.”

 

Cecil Dawson, assistant carver, and David Cox of the maritime heritage society discuss progress on the language pole project at the maritime museum. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

Just Posted

TSB investigating the grounding of Nana Provider on Quadra

‘This was a wake-up call to the people on the inside passage,’ says area director

Vancouver Island woman dead after car smacks elk on Lake Cowichan highway

North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP were called to the scene at about 8 p.m. Tuesday night

Tim Hortons drive-thru rejects mom and kids on bicycle

Car-free for years, Charity Millar ‘felt gross’ being denied service

‘Our culture is not a religion,’ Indigenous educator tells Nanaimo court in case of smudging at school

Mother also gave evidence Tuesday in B.C. Supreme Court, case continues Wednesday

Courtenay “geovangelist” teacher wins prestigious national award

Andrew Young won the 2019 Alex Trebek Medal for Geographic Literacy

VIDEO: Ron MacLean says he doesn’t believe former co-host Don Cherry is racist

Sportsnet fired Cherry on Nov. 11, two days after controversial on-air comments during ‘Coach’s Corner’

Distracted driving tickets not for ICBC revenue, B.C. minister says

Minister Mike Farnworth calls SenseBC analysis ‘nonsense’

CN Rail strike and lack of trucking alternatives stoke forest industry fears

Companies calling on the federal government to ‘do everything in its power’ to end the strike

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveils new Liberal cabinet

Pivotal role in his new cabinet for a minority-government era goes to Chrystia Freeland

VicPD officer answers the call from Canada Revenue Agency phone scammer

Officer politely asks questions, frustrating scammer

Nanaimo region asked to consider free bus passes for students

Tyler Brown, RDN transit committee chairman, hopes to explore fully subsidized bus passes for youths

Suspects carry out 500-lb fireplace in latest commercial smash and grab

Third break-in at Campbell River business in less than a week: RCMP

No turn signals, double-parking among top concerns for B.C. drivers: poll

Two-thirds of B.C. drivers said that not using turn signals was their biggest pet peeve

Man accused in fatal Shuswap church shooting also charged with arson

Parmenter family home badly damaged by fire a month before killing

Most Read