Jasper totem pole provokes First Nations concerns
The raising of a totem pole in one of Canada's largest and most iconic national parks is also carving out a new controversy for First Nations reconciliation.
On Saturday officials in Jasper National Park in Alberta will erect a pole carved in Haida Gwaii, off B.C.'s north coast.
But some First Nations in the Jasper area wonder why a totem pole from a thousand kilometres away is being put up, when there is nothing to represent the local native traditions.
Chief Nathan Matthew of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council says his nation is much closer to the park, which they consider their traditional territory.
"We don't want to disrespect the Haida and their art, but…it's a little bit ironic they would have something like the Haida, significantly and prominently represented in Jasper, when they have no representation of other First Nations whose traditional territory Jasper Park is in," he said.
Matthew says this pole may be beautiful, but totem poles aren't even a tradition among First Nations in the Jasper area.
A tourist attraction for almost a century
Parks Canada says the totem pole is not an inappropriate cultural icon, but rather a gift between aboriginal peoples.
When Jasper Park was created in 1907 its original First Nations inhabitants were forced to leave, but a Haida totem pole featuring a Raven was soon erected for park tourists to enjoy.
The pole stood for 94 years until it started to rot and threatened to fall.
In 2009 it was taken down and last year, Jasper Park returned that aging pole to Haida Gwaii and commissioned two young carvers from those islands to carve a new one.
Brothers Gwaii and Jaalen Edenshaw say the new pole tells the story of two brothers who travel from Haidi Gwaii to the Rockies. One of them stays while the other returns home.
The brothers say they are proud of the new pole and the story it tells.
"Story lives on — all our stories do — by being retold. A totem pole to tell the story makes it a bit more widespread," said Edenshaw.
According to the Parks Canada's website, "The story suggests a connection between the Haida and the Indigenous peoples from that area. It should be noted that it does not indicate Haida ownership or lineage."