Comment: Police-station welcome pole was sign of reconciliation

I was a police officer with the Victoria Police Department from 1973 to 2001.

About 20 years ago, I was the first Aboriginal liaison officer for the department, on top of my regular duties as the NCO in charge of the forensic section.

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I developed a presentation called the Broken Circle that educated department members about the colonial history that caused many of the issues with which our police officers dealt on a daily basis. A culture camp was organized to enlighten members of the Victoria police, and we undertook a project to raise funds for the carving and installation of a totem pole in front of the Victoria station to bridge relations.

The totem project engaged Chief Robert Sam, police volunteers and members of the community to take part in a unity feast. I visited many service groups, businesses and private volunteers to show my Broken Circle presentation and solicit funds for the project to contract Charles Elliott to carve a welcome-figure totem for the entrance to the Victoria police station.

The unity feast was held in 1999, with many diverse communities attending with their cultural ceremonies and foods to honour local First Nations elders. It was a momentous event that bridged Indigenous and police relations.

A few months back, I was notified by the department that the pole was rotten, and would be cut down and given back to the carver. They would replace the totem with a plaque.

I am amazed that there was no maintenance or upkeep to the pole, and it was allowed to rot. I am amazed that engineers or conservators from the provincial museum were not consulted on its preservation. Chief Sam and other elders who worked with us are now gone, but would be very upset if they were here today.

I see that as a sign of reconciliation, Sir John A. Macdonald’s statue will be removed and replaced. I wish that there was the same concern for our pole, which was an official reconciliation and building of trust between police and First Nation communities.

This pole represented the efforts of hundreds of volunteer hours and $30,000 in donations. The pole welcomed people to our station for 18 years and was removed with one cut of a power saw. I drove past when I was in Victoria and saw how empty and vacant the front entrance looks, our legacy a memory only.

I wish the city success with its reconciliation process and hope it will ensure the poles in Centennial Square are well cared for.

Gary Green retired as a sergeant with the Victoria police. He lives in Courtenay.

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