Parents, students, School District No. 46 staff, trustees and First Nations representatives welcomed two halves of a cedar pole to Pender Harbour Secondary School on Jan. 13 with much celebration and ceremony.
All were invited to help “welcome the wood” that will become two new entrance poles to the school carved by master carver Arnold Jones of the Sechelt Nation. He will carve the poles on site while teaching students and interested community members his traditional craft.
It’s hoped that once the two poles are erected community members can work together to create a horizontal carving connecting the poles to form an archway.
The entire project is expected to take about two years to complete.
Previously there were two community-carved poles at the entrance to the school, but they were deemed a danger and taken down about two and a half years ago.
“They were not traditional poles, but they were community poles and they were very important to the community. Many of the community members were surprised and some upset [to see them taken down] so that’s when we started this process, immediately after,” said aboriginal education support teacher Tami Forsyth Jacobsen.
She met with the chief and council of the Sechelt Nation and worked through the process of securing the cedar, finding a carver willing to take on the project and organizing a special ceremony to properly welcome and bless the wood.
At the ceremony and feast on Monday morning, Wes Nahanee of the Squamish Nation spoke about the importance of cedar to the First Nations people of the area.
“It’s the tree of life. It’s the one that gives us our transport. It’s the one that gives us our cooking vessel. It’s the one that gives us our regalia, our carvings, our totems. So we give great acknowledgement to it,” Nahanee said.
He explained that outside the school a ceremony would take place using cedar boughs to “cleanse the spirit of that tree that gave up its life.”
“Once we’re finished doing the cleansing of the log itself we’ll move to our brother [Jones], cleansing his spirit, making sure in his travels when he touches that wood that he does it in a good way and that he is safe while he does it,” he said. “After they have taken care of the log and the carver they will take care of the surrounding area and the surrounding lands, for when we’re carving on a project like this it’s very important that you cleanse those areas because we don’t know what has taken place.”
Once outside, the crowd gathered around the cedar poles and a group of about 30 students and some invited guests lifted the first pole to be carved into position.
Then members of Xwamtsut, the Sechelt Nation’s ambassadors, used cedar boughs and traditional song to cleanse and bless the wood, carver and surrounding area. After some more songs were shared all moved back inside to enjoy a potluck feast.
Jones was pleased with the ceremony to kick off the community-carving project, which he’s eager to start.
“I started carving when I was nine years old and now I’m 71. I’m self-taught and I enjoy doing this with the kids,” he said.
He’s hopeful one or two students may want to continue in the craft once the project is finished.