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Survivors Totem Pole raised in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

Symbol raised in Vacouver's Downtown Eastside honours First Nations, LGBTQ, Japanese, Chinese and South Asian survivors of racism and injustice.

Project honours survivors from the DTES but also those from colonialism, racism and poverty

The Survivor Totem Pole was raised in Vancouver's Pigeon Park on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016 to mark social and racial injustice. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Carved from a 1,000-year-old cedar tree, the Survivors Totem Pole was raised in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside Saturday as a symbol of survival and healing from social and racial injustice.

The pole is eight metres high and was carved from a 1,000 year old cedar tree. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

The pole was raised in a potlatch ceremony with Coast Salish and Haida protocols and formally witnessed by special guests including Mayor Gregor Robertson, Vancouver Park Board vice-chair Erin Shum and more than a dozen matriarchs, elders and hereditary chiefs.

It will stand at Pigeon Park.

The pole is a three-year collaboration between DTES advocates, First Nations, members of the LGBTQ community, along with Japanese, Chinese and South Asian survivors of racism.

Expert Haida carver Skundaal Bernie Williams (Gul Kitt Jaad), a long time DTES resident, led the design and carving of the totem pole as a gift to her community. 'We are fighting for our dignity, homes and cultures and this Survivors Totem Pole is a symbol of that,' she said. (CBC)

"We are here to honour the survivors of the DTES, the survivors of colonialism, gentrification or poverty," said Audrey Siegl with the Musqueam First Nation.

The pole was carried by DTES community members to Pigeon Park where it was attached to an offering area and gently raised into position by a crane. There was a potlatch ceremony with Coast Salish and Haida protocols. (CBC)

"It's a historic day, acknowledging the reconciliation and horrible tragedies of our past that many have suffered in the Aboriginal community; to acknowledge it and look to a brighter future," said Vancouver Mayor Gergor Robertson.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson was at the raising of the Survivors Totem Pole, which was open to the public. (CBC)
A First Nations woman sings as part of the ceremony to install the Survivors Totem Pole in Vancouver on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. (CBC)

"As a First Nations woman, I see a lot of pain that has plagued our nations of First Nations and Indigenous communities," said Linnea Dick who was at the ceremony.

"Someone very near to my heart, my sister was a lost Indigenous woman and we got her back, and I also put a prayer out that all missing Indigenous women come home and even if that means the lost person must find themselves and heal.

"I hope this pole will encourage that." 

First Nations woman Linnea Dick says she hopes the totem pole will help with healing. (CBC)

with files from Tina Lovgreen.