By contributor Spencer Sheehan-Kalina

On October 12, First Nation communities and VIU celebrated the raising of a totem pole on the Nanaimo Campus, right outside of VIU’s Shq’apthut: A Gathering Place. Students, staff, public figures, community leaders, and members came together to honour the totem at this culturally historic event with speeches, ceremony, and delicious food.

Speeches and a ceremony took place at the site of the totem with tribute paid to all those who had played a part in its creation. Special appreciation was given to both Kwakwaka’wakw member and artist carver Tom Hunt, and to the companies responsible for donation of the wood, Island Timberlands, Western Forest Products and TimberWest, with emphasis placed on the cultural importance and significance. Festivities continued in VIU’s gym afterwards, with dancing, song, and feast being offered to all who attended.

This particular totem, placed between the two others, has been created to represent the First Nations language Kwakwaka’wakw. The two that stand beside this latest edition are representative of the two other First Nations languages indigenous to Vancouver Island, the Nuu-chah-nulth and Coast Salish. The other totem poles were respectively carved by Noel Brown, from Coast Salish, and Qwaya Sam, from Nuu-chah-nulth, both of which were celebrated at a community gathering in June 2015.

The Totem Raising Celebration is part of VIU’s ongoing work around the topic of reconciliation with First Nations peoples in a series of projects called Reconciliation Road: Join the Journey with VIU. Other events of the Reconciliation Road project include The Witness Blanket, a concert with Buffy Sainte-Marie at The Port Theatre, and the second annual Indigenous Speakers Series in partnership with the Laurier Institution and CBC Radio One’s Ideas.

A member of the faculty who asked to remain unnamed remarked: “This is an important day for everyone: students, faculty and staff of VIU, for the First Nations communities of Vancouver Island, and for the companies that partnered with VIU to help facilitate this amazing day… this is a breathtaking piece of culturally significant work.”

John Johnson, a First Nations student at VIU who drove from Gold River, for the day’s events said, “I speak some Nuu-chah-nulth. Today makes me feel proud of my hereditary and cultural heritage, because today I feel like we’ve all taken a step toward a healthier, happier, more inclusive future as a whole community living on this Island.”

All are encouraged to visit VIU’s Shq’apthut: A Gathering Place to view the majestic edition to the landscape and to be a fellow witness to this sincere and important step of reconciliation.