I have had the good fortune to travel to many different places for my holidays. This year we decided to check out Yukon and Alaska.
It was nice to see Whitehorse with its wonderful small-community feeling, its museums, and the Totem Pole of Reconciliation by master carver Wayne Price. He was asked to carve a Healing Totem Pole as part of the Reconciliation process. The following is an excerpt from an article by Rachel Levy-McLaughlin based on a conversation with Wayne:
“He told us he didn’t know how to do that (make a Healing Totem Pole). How do you reflect pain, resilience, and strength all in the same piece of wood?
And that only touches on the aesthetic portion of the task, the physical carving.
How do you give a log healing properties?
Someone told him that you leave the pieces that are chipped off the log on the ground as its being built. You imagine that each fallen piece is someone who has passed, someone who is now beyond this life. Now I see the healing side of it when I walk by. It’s nothing I can really put my finger on. Something in the way the woman on the bottom looks at me, like she’s lost loved ones. Something about the expression of the child in between the dad’s legs, like his eyes are still fresh and innocent.
This totem pole stands a few metres high, easily. Imagine all the pieces. Thousands of pieces chipped off the log as it was formed into its shape.
Once the carving was done and the pole was physically complete, survivors from residential schools came to it for a ceremony. He told us they each grabbed a handful of chips from the ground, chips fallen from the log, and they put them into a fire.
It was their small way to honour those who never left the residential schools.”
I felt some sadness as I sat there and looked at the pole, and reflected on the life of my sister who passed away a couple of years after attending Residential School in Edmonton. She left behind a baby boy. Though she passed away a couple of years after she graduated from school, in my heart I know that it was the damage from being away from our mother that slowly killed her heart and spirit and eventually her physical being.
There was something else I could not put my finger on about what that pole means. It had a feeling of sadness about it, but also peace and healing. This pole has a story to tell us, but it also represents power and strength and the promise of a future for the survivors and the next generations.
Our travels through the Yukon allowed us to see many other examples of Reconciliation and cultural recovery. We were also deeply influenced by the healing power of the vast landscape itself. More in Part Two!
Photos: Nii K'an Kwsdins