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Salish Bear Totem returned to Malahat summit

Totem set on fire last year

A private cultural ceremony was held to reinstall the Stan Modeste Totem, Salish Bear, to its rightful place at the Malahat Summit on Sept. 29.

Hosted by the Modeste family, representatives of Cowichan Tribes, Malahat, Halalt, Lyackson, Stz’uminus, and Penelakut First Nations, City of Duncan, Municipality of North Cowichan, and the Cowichan Valley Regional District were invited to the ceremony ahead of Orange Shirt Day and National Day of Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30.

“Historic injustices and ongoing racist attacks weigh heavily on our community,” stated Cowichan Tribes Chief Lydia Hwitsum.

“Quw’utsun people are taught by our Elders to help one another and work together for the good of all. It has been greatly appreciated to see and experience the support of the larger community for the repair and re-installation of Stan Modeste’s Salish Bear Totem.”

The Salish Bear Totem was carved by renowned Cowichan carver Stan Modeste for the Route of Totems, created in 1966 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the joining of the Colony of Vancouver Island with the Colony of British Columbia.

Modeste attended the Coqualeetza Industrial School in Chilliwack.

He went on to serve as Chief of Cowichan Tribes for two terms, and in the 1970s was commissioned to carve a totem for a Canadian bank’s branch in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Modeste, who died in 1981, is remembered as a loving father and as a generous, fair, and knowledgeable leader.

In what is believed to be an act of retaliation following the toppling of a statue in Victoria, the totem was set ablaze in the early morning hours of July 2, 2021, with the message “One Totem – One Statue” left in graffiti at the scene.

Passing motorists stopped to try to extinguish the flames and local firefighters and RCMP were called.

The totem was removed in accordance with cultural protocols in a cleansing ceremony last summer and was refurbished by Cowichan carver Doug August.

“When this pole was burned in a senseless act of racism, an elder shared with me the protocol process the carver, Stan Modeste, went through before he created the living, breathing representation of the culture that he was generous enough to share,” said Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples.

“This process of restoration has shown once again the generosity of the Quw’utsun people, and I am thankful for our work together to bring this pole back.”

About the Author: Cowichan Valley Citizen Staff

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