A totem pole honouring murdered and missing Indigenous women was finally unveiled at Tillicum Lelum Aboriginal Friendship Centre in Nanaimo.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused delays, said Grace Elliott-Nielsen, Tillicum Lelum executive director, but a ceremony was held today, April 22. What the pole is representative of is very relevant, she said.
“It was so, so important because I always get notices about women that are missing,” said Elliott-Nielsen. “Little girls that are missing, mothers that are missing and it’s so sad because a lot of the times, they’re not found. I hope and I believe that a big part of this will bring up more information and thoughts about what’s happening.”
William and Joel Good, Snuneymuxw First Nation carvers and father and son, collaborated to create the totem, in traditional Coast Salish fashion. The pole consists of a matriarch, according to a press release, representing respected First Nations women who are victimized, or sii’em’ slhunlheni’. The woman is draped by a white swuqw’a’lh blanket, symbolizing how cherished the women are, and the blanket has a copper pin with an eagle on it, which represents wealth and royalty to honour matriarchs, and an eagle is at the top, carrying women from Earth to heaven.
“I added a tear drop on [the woman’s] eye and up top is a supernatural eagle,” Joel said. “I did some salmon heads in the wings. The main pole is made of red cedar and the top eagle I made out of yellow cedar.”
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William said the tear drop holds symbolism.
“On one side of the woman I have a tear coming out and that’s all the grief that was caused to our people and on the other side, there’s no tears,” said William. “It represents the healing of our people. What I like to see is the totem pole bring a lot of healing to all our people across Canada.”
The main log was, in fact, from William’s backyard and he donated it.
“I was going to make an ocean-going canoe that would fit in with the [Tribal Journeys event] and Grace Nielsen came to see me … and said she wanted me to do a totem pole for missing and murdered Indigenous women, so I agreed to that,” said William. “It was during the COVID time and I was having trouble getting logs, so I just used one I had in stock.”
Father and son enjoyed working together.
“It was nice to work with him,” Joel said. “I didn’t used to like working with him so much. We kind of clashed, different ideas … we’re starting to enjoy working with each other the last while.”
“We work quite well together,” said William. “He paints better than I do, he always has … A lot of the deep carving Joel does, too.”
Money for the project came via the federal government.