A totem reached the end of its life with a unifying ceremony after 65 years standing the grounds of Thunderbird Park.
Members of First Nations from across the Island, as well as representatives from the neighboring Royal BC Museum spoke to the significance of the Kwakwaka’wakw house post replica, which was built in 1954 by Kwakiutl Chief Mungo Martin, with the help of his son David Martin and Henry Hunt.
The pole was a replica of an original post from 1870 which stood in the Gusgimukw village of Xwatis in Quatsino Sound. Recently, engineers analyzed that internal rot made the pole unsafe to stay on site.
“When the museum realized that the pollution in the city can actually speed up the deterioration process that’s when they hired my great grandfather Chief Mungo Martin to replicate the poles,” said Leslie McGarry, Indigenous Cultural Liaison with the Royal BC Museum. “These poles that are in the park are story tellers and history keepers.”
In Kwakwaka’wakw beliefs there are four realms; the sky world, the land of the living, the sea world and the supernatural world. The pole represented the sea realm.
“This one represents the creatures from the bottom of the ocean, and we know this because if you look at the eyes are carved they’re protruding,” McGarry explained. “If you’re fishing for halibut, reeling for fish, their eyes bulge.”
Figures depicted on the pole included a mythological bird, the sea chief, and a bear holding copper – representative of a chief – and a whale.
Drummers and dancers garbed in traditional robes and headdresses ornamented with mother-of-pearl and cedar performed a cleansing ceremony to clear the area of negative energy before the pole was felled.
A song and cleansing dance before the pole comes down pic.twitter.com/7cZbSzkVbB— Nicole Crescenzi (@NicoleCrescenzi) May 31, 2019
Construction workers carefully removed stabilizing screws and metal backings before tying to the pole, lifting it into the air and placing it on its back nearby.
The pole will now be sent to Fort Rupert, where Chief David Mungo Knox of the Kwakiutl First Nation, the great-grandson of Mungo Martin, will facilitate the next stage in the pole’s journey. It will travel to Quatsino, where members of the Quatsino First Nation will decide how to lay the pole to rest.
Traditionally, poles are left to lie in the community where it is naturally reclaimed by the earth.
The Kwakwaka’wakw house post replica is one of two posts that will be removed. A second, Haida pole also carved by Martin, will be removed on Wednesday, June 5.
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