Vancouver school board unveils new reconciliation pole and welcoming poles on National Indigenous Peoples Day

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      It took more than a year to make a dream become a reality.

      Davita Marsden conceived a totem pole flying over the sky at a high speed and smashing into the ground.

      More than a decade later, Marsden, an Anishinaabe Indigenous education teacher, shared her vision with the Vancouver school board’s vice principal of Indigenous education, Chas Desjarlais.

      Desjarlais, in return, shared this dream to her superiors at the VSB.

      Today (June 21), Marsden and Desjarlais witnessed the unveiling of the 44-foot-tall reconciliation totem pole along with two welcoming poles outside the VSB’s main headquarters.

      Marsden said the reconciliation pole symbolizes the revival of Indigenous culture.

      “The purpose of this project was to bring back Indigenous culture, to create a foundation and a new perspective to learning, to lift the children, families, and bringing in the communities, to strengthen good relations and cultures of the world, to value and respect Indigenous education, and to open hearts and minds to teachings and laws our people have had since time immemorial,” she said.

      The VSB hopes that the reconciliation pole will help “unify the whole nation”.

      Aria Nasimi

      Desjarlais, who is Nehiyaw-Métis and a member of the Cold Lake First Nations, sees the reconciliation pole as medicine for “our children” in learning Indigenous culture.

      She added that “these pieces are here to lift everybody up and Indigenous education and acknowledge the local Musqueam tradition, culture, and language.”

      “The reconciliation is carved to unify whole nations, coming together, working together with a good heart and good mind. We are trying to bring everybody together to do the work—the hard work of reconciliation. We have to be able to work together,” Desjarlais added.

      However, seventh-grader Cali Pelletier, a member of Treaty 4 First Nations of Saskatchewan, delivered a speech at the event, saying she has a hard time believing in “reconciliation”.

      “How can we [reconcile] when we are still being colonized, still getting our lands taken, and still go missing and being murdered?” she said.

      “As an Indigenous woman, I'm five times more likely to be murdered than my friend. Personally, I do not believe in reconciliation because I still see such pain,” Pelletier continued. “My hope for reconciliation is that it actually happens one day. That would mean that our nations would become stronger and that we would live with pride, not fearful for our lives.”

      Another student, Anya Mickovic, also spoke at the event.

      Aria Nasimi

      The reconciliation pole was carved by Squamish artist Xwalacktun and his son James Harry. The two welcoming figures (one male and one female) were carved by Musqueam artists William Dan and Chrystal Sparrow, respectively.

      Students from Vancouver schools have also collaborated on the massive Indigenous art project that will likely stand for decades to come.

      In its entirety, the reconciliation pole has a message of pulling people “together as one”, said Xalacktun.

      “Meet in the middle,” Xwalacktun added. “We all meet in the middle so that we can learn about one another. And we have to move forward together in order to have a better life for all of us.”

      Below, you can see other photos from today's event.

      Aria Nasimi
      Aria Nasimi
      Aria Nasimi