Indigenous artists aim to carve out new paths to healing by sculpting a 26-foot pole on the front steps of the Royal BC Museum.
Perry and Tom LaFortune, brothers and carvers from the Tsawout Nation, will discuss their process and provide interpretation as they work on the pole now through October, when the finished piece will be erected outside the Ministry of Health building in Victoria.
“It’s an experience,” Perry says of carving on the tourist-heavy front steps of the RBCM. “Some people have seen these poles carved already and they’re just amazed at all of the work that’s involved in what we do and how we do it.”
The brothers were nominated by the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations, on whose traditional territory the museum sits, as part of the collaborative project between the RBCM, Ministry of Health and forestry management company TimberWest.
“There’s a lot of fine work, a lot of finesse and there’s a lot of creativity as well,” Perry says of carving the cedar pole that will depict the family’s matriarch holding a rope that extends to an owl and up into the claws of a raven.
The project is particularly special to him and his brother. “We’ve done a lot of carvings over the years, but this is the first time we’ve done something that has such deep meaning for us.”
He calls the work “a representation of who our people are and how we are.”
The theme of the pole, Crossing Cultures and Healing, meant more to the pair than simply calling it a reconciliation pole.
“Reconciliation has so many different meanings and it’s two wrongs being righted,” he explains. “But we’ve never really done anything wrong except exist.”
TimberWest regularly donates logs to First Nations artists, says Monica Bailey, the company’s director of communications. The museum – looking to resurrect their carving program – reached out to the Island-based company and the pole, chosen by the brothers at first sight, comes from Gwawaenuk territory on the North Island.
The museum represents all British Columbians and this project is really bringing the art back to the people, Bailey says.
“It’s an opportunity for people to understand that it’s more than just totem carving,” she explains. “It gives an opportunity to start bridging a conversation that is larger than just ‘what does reconciliation mean?’”
“It’s about bringing people together,” says Tsawout Nation master carver Perry LaFortune of the totem pole he and his brother Tom LaFortune will carve @RoyalBCMuseum, part of a program in partnership w @TimberWest #YYJ pic.twitter.com/apHq29D38E
— Kristyn Anthony (@kristyn_anthony) July 30, 2018
Access to the carving station is free, and the LaFortune brothers will be onsite Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. The public will also be able to track the progress of the carving at RBCM.ca/pole and on the museum’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.