The longhouse at Thunderbird Park welcomed back a long-standing totem after months of conservation efforts.
The Kwakwaka’wakw Heraldic Pole was carved in 1952-53 by Mungo Martin, his son David Martin and his niece, Mildred Hunt to commemorate the first legal potlach on site after the Potlatch Ban was lifted.
The pole has stood in place as a welcoming pole at the Thunderbird Park Longhouse, known as Wawadit’la, next to the Royal B.C. Museum (RBCM) for nearly 70 years.
Mungo Martin’s great-grandson, Chief David Knox, Kwakiutl artist of Fort Rupert and Mervyn Child, son of Mildred Hut, worked on the restoration of the pole.
“Walking in my ancestors’ footsteps is unreal, and to be part of it and carry it on is amazing,” Knox said.
“We’re making history and working with the museum with a great collaboration. … It means so much to preserve it and carry it forward to teach and educate.”
Conservation included replacing nine patches of rotten wood, adding and sculpting new pieces, painting the pole and adding a steel support beam on the back side.
Lou-Ann Neel is the repatriation specialist at the Royal B.C. Museum said crests on the pole represent neighboring nations and include a Thunderbird, representing the Awa’etlala at Tsawadi, also known as Knight Inlet; a grizzly bear holding copper, the original ancestors of the Kwagiulth, whose village today is at Tsaxis, near what is now known as Port Hardy; a beaver representing the ‘Nak’waxda’xw family from one of the main villages of called Ba’as, also known as Blunden Harbour; and Dzunukwa, the Wild Woman of the Woods, holding her child.
The pole was welcomed back in a cleansing ceremony which included the burning of cedar boughs and dropping eagle down, followed by ceremonial dances and speeches in the longhouse. The final dance was between Knox and RBCM CEO Jack Lohman
“It’s incredibly important,” Neel said.
“It’s a way the public can engage and learn about Indigenous people and know that what we have in the exhibitions upstairs are not representative of a dead culture, but just samples of cultures that are very much alive.”