A Survivor’s Totem Pole to symbolize resistance, persistence, and inclusion in Vancouver

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      This year, most of us engaged in the typical Canada Day celebrations, which included parades, fireworks, and the live entertainment that was peppered across the city.

      However, very little of this celebration took pause to recognize what those celebrations meant, not even one week after the City of Vancouver formally acknowledged that we inhabit unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

      What does it mean to celebrate a nation-state that was formed through forceful appropriation? What does it mean to celebrate Canadian multiculturalism on colonized land?

      While none of us have the answers, we can at least recognize that in The Year of Reconciliation, we have faced many discussions on how to build bridges with a marred past.

      Recognition is the first step and now we must demand more. We must start practicing and enacting reconciliation.

      One of the community-driven actions that has been actually enacting reconciliation was initiated by the Sacred Circle Society, a group of dedicated people engaged in community building and healing. Its most recent project has been brewing for almost a year and involves raising a Survivor’s Totem Pole. The process of raising the Survivor’s Totem Pole is building stronger connections between Coast Salish Nations, urban Aboriginal people, and other communities impacted by racism and exclusion.

      In January 2014, ambassadors of the indigenous, Japanese, Chinese, South Asian, Filipino, and Latin American communities gathered to discuss the human-rights struggles that have taken place in Vancouver. Some of the groups and issues represented included Ending Violence Against Women and Children, Chinese Head Tax Reparation, Japanese Canadian Human Rights, Ending Homelessness, and Komagata Maru activists.

      All communities were brought together to discuss their experiences of racism and exclusion in Canada, as well as celebrate each other’s resilience and courage to face human rights battles. The Survivor’s Totem Pole was the material outcome of the community discussion; the totem pole will symbolize resistance, persistence, and inclusion.

      Totem poles commemorate stories of a people. In Canada, many monuments are often in reference to building a national consciousness or sense of citizenship. One of the ways  we can begin acting upon reconciliation and healing is to build monuments that represent the turbulence of citizenship, which include a long history of colonization, racism, and exclusion.

      Struggles among First Nations and racialized people are stories we need to commemorate.

      The Survivor’s Totem Pole is currently raising funds on Kickstarter to finish the project.

      Skundaal (Bernie Williams), the only female apprentice to study under the great carver and artist Bill Reid, is the mastercarver that will complete the Survivor’s Totem Pole.

      A 980-year-old, 30-foot red-cedar log has already been secured and is being stored for this community art project.

      The Sacred Circle Society is seeking $15,000 to complete the project. They are fundraising until August 3, 2014. This is an “all or nothing” campaign, meaning that the project can only be completed if all of the funds have been raised.

      You can donate here.

      Melissa Fong is a PhD candidate in planning and geography at the University of Toronto. Her areas of research include neighbourhood change and equity. She maintains a blog on municipal politics, feminism, and anti-racism issues at melissafong.ca.