School totem pole celebrates community and culture

The Oaklands Elementary Legacy Totem Pole Project was unveiled Thursday, culminating an effort by Kakwaka’wakw and Coast Salish artist Carey Newman and assistant Tejas Collison that began in 2018.

Students chose the animals depicted on the pole, which celebrates community and honours Indigenous culture.

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“This project is about finding ways to integrate authentic cultural experiences into the classroom,” said Newman, or Hayalthkin’geme, who is also an Oaklands parent. “Because when I think about the future of reconciliation it is the understanding of these children that fills me with hope.”

Newman, also known for creating the Witness Blanket, unveiled the pole at a celebration led by Lekwungen knowledge keeper Bradley Yuxwelupton Dick.

The bear, wolf and otter were chosen by the students back in 2018, then the raven “tricked its way to the top,” Newman said. “Tucked amongst the other animals are an orca, frog, eagle and moon and thunderbird,” he said. “Lastly, as the pandemic came along and changed everything for everyone, the resilient little hummingbird came along to remind us all how we can help each other by doing what we can.”

A documentary film about the project will be completed this summer.


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