A blackened column carved with children’s faces, representing lives lost at Indian residential schools, has been created by acclaimed Kwakiutl First Nation master carver Stanley Hunt.
The pole will soon travel through Vancouver Island, beginning June 16, making its way to the installation place in Vancouver on Indigenous People’s Day, June 21.
Based in the Port Hardy area, Hunt was working on a memorial for a beloved granddaughter, commissioned by friend Ray Bergen, when the first 215 unmarked graves were recovered at the former residential school at Tk’emlups te Secwepemc in 2021.
Conversations about honouring and remembering began between the carver and the Vancouver businessman. The idea for the residential school memorial pole was born, and Bergen set out to fundraise for it, while Hunt began to work on concept drawings.
The drawing stage involved processing emotions, and important healing for Hunt.
“I tried to talk to my family about this. There’s no words in any language anywhere in the world that could possibly be put together to make any of that make sense,” he told Windspeaker.com.
“So when we started this, there were some pretty emotional days,” said Hunt. “We worked right through the winter in a tent with lighting… through some mighty cold days. And through those days, you just wanted to keep looking for the children.”
There were times when he wanted to take time off, “come in the house and warm up and get coffee and try to warm up a little bit, but we wanted to keep working for those kids.”
At 18-feet tall, the pole holds Raven sitting atop, embracing the children. The column is covered with rows of children’s faces, each one unique, each one expressing loss and sorrow. It’s washed in black to represent this part of Canadian /Indigenous history. Orange bands separate the rows of children’s faces and honours the Every Child Matters movement.
“All those children who were taken away to go to Indian residential schools were really loved by their families. They were being well brought up, well taken care of” in the ways of the people “for thousands and thousands of years,” he said.
Residential schools were “something that should never have happened.”
“Raven is our Creator, and a trickster,” Hunt explained. “If you look closely at the raven itself, in his beak he’s cradling the seed of life…And when he is looking down at the monument, he looks directly down at a cross.”
The cross is in the direct centre, inverted. It appears upside down to the viewer standing before the pole, but it’s upright from the Raven’s view. Hunt said that cross represents those who were directly, and indirectly involved with residential schools.
“I wanted all the people that were involved with thinking it was OK to murder children,” Hunt said. “I wanted them to be represented for this time in our history,” for their decisions, held accountable.
The Canadian maple leaf is also upside down, along with the acronyms RCMP and NWMP (North West Mountain Police).
“But, Raven, being the trickster, is looking down the monument and for him, he sees it right side up and he’s gonna make this right by finding those children.”
The five-foot diameter log arrived at Hunt’s shop the same day the Pope landed in Canada last summer, notes the carver.
Hunt and nephew Rey Dickey worked from August to the end of December on the pole. Then Hunt hired master carver Mervyn Child (Kwaguł, Tlingit, Nuu-chah-nulth), who has continued the work to this day.
“We’re still working on it now, probably finishing the day before it leaves to go on its trip.”
The memorial pole will leave in ceremony, travelling from Hunt’s shop on June 16 through island communities, with ceremony to greet the pole at each stop:
- June 17 at 11:15 a.m. in Port Hardy, Carrot Park.
- June 18 at 10 a.m. in Campbell River at Thunderbird Hall.
- June 19 at 10 a.m. at Nanaimo and 4 p.m. at Duncan, locations to be announced.
- June 20 at 10 a.m. at Victoria Inner Harbour.
- June 21 at 10 a.m. farewell and arriving at 4 p.m. to Vancouver Inner Harbour.