Nanaimo has a new totem pole.
On Monday, Sept. 27, a rainy afternoon cleared up just in time for a welcome pole by Snuneymuxw carver Noel Brown to be installed at Maffeo Sutton Park. Two cranes were required to lift the 15-metre pole and place it onto its foundation in Spirit Square.
The City of Nanaimo put forward $100,000 for the project, while the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre contributed $42,000 from a Canadian Heritage grant, as well as the cedar log from Mosaic Forest Management valued at more than $5,000.
“It was an honour for me to be chosen to do it,” Brown said as the pole was being prepared for installation.
At the base of the pole is a matriarch, followed by an orca, bear and an eagle on top.
“Matriarch holds us all up, killer whale protects us at sea, bear watches over us, eagle carries our prayers up to the creator and tells us when the salmon are coming,” Brown explained.
— Josef Jacobson (@JosefJacobson) September 27, 2021
Brown said the pole was designed with direction from Snuneymuxw elders council, of which his father Jerry is a member. Joan Brown, Noel’s step-mother, was present at the installation along with Jerry. She said the elders’ role was to provide Noel with interpretation and understanding from a historical context.
“What this art is, is historically it tells a story and it’s a source of knowledge,” Joan said.
She said the pole is a reminder of the relationship between humans and animals and the matriarch at the base represents the importance of women in Snuneymuxw culture.
“They’re the knowledge keepers and we take care of the medicines,” she said. “They’re just really the rock of our community.”
Joan said the placement of the pole at Maffeo Sutton Park is also meaningful, as it “re-establishes our presence” at an ancient ancestral site of the Snuneymuxw. She calls it a “significant homecoming.”
“This is where we’ve come and this is where we belong,” she said. “That’s why it’s so powerful to us to be back in our territory … We’re here, always have been here and we’re not going anywhere.”