British Columbia

'We want to move forward as one': Reconciliation totem pole unveiled in Victoria

First Nations leaders and politicians were on hand for the dedication of the Crossing Cultures and Healing totem pole on Blanshard Street on Tuesday.

Brothers Tom and Perry LaFortune spent the summer carving 300-year-old cedar

The new totem pole was unveiled to the public at 1515 Blanshard in Victoria, which houses the Ministries of Health and Mental Health and Addictions, on Tuesday. (Province of B.C.)

A new totem pole designed to further reconciliation — and to honour the carvers' own mother — has been unveiled next to the provincial health ministry building in Victoria.

First Nations leaders and politicians were on hand for the dedication of the Crossing Cultures and Healing totem pole on Blanshard Street on Tuesday.

Cheers went up as the sheet came down from the 7.5-metre pole, carved from a 300-year-old red cedar.

Steve Sxwithultxw, a senior advisor for cultural safety with the ministry, helped oversee the project and said the totem represents a new health-care relationship between government and First Nations.

"It is important that health outcomes for our people are recognized and are dealt with — to know that our people are important," he said.

Artists Tom and Perry Lafortune, brothers from the Tsawout First Nation, carved the pole on the Royal B.C. Museum's outdoor plaza throughout the summer.

Watch a timelapse showing part of the carving process below:

A 7.5-metre totem pole carved from 300-year-old cedar was unveiled outside the B.C. health ministry's building in Victoria, B.C. on Tuesday. 0:48

Perry has been carving for 42 years, but said this was the most public project he has undertaken. 

The bottom figure on the pole depicts the brothers' mother, who died 10 years ago.

"This is really, really special because it's near and dear to my heart," Perry said in August.

Master carvers and brothers Perry (pictured above) and Tom LaFortune of the Tsawout First Nation will be hard at work at Victoria's Royal BC Museum. (Michael Mcarthur/CBC)

The brothers say the carving displays, from the top down:

  • Raven: messenger of good news.
  • Owl: ability to see in both worlds, the past, present and future.
  • Frog: conscience of the community.
  • Woman: grandmother who teaches respect, humility, and resilience.
  • Rope: connects the figures together for strength and continuity.
The carvers say the totem pole displays several creatures including: a raven, a messenger of good news; an owl, which can see both worlds; and a frog, the conscience of the community. (Province of B.C.)

Politicians took turns at the podium on Tuesday, including B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix, who said the government recognizes the importance of culture in healthcare.

Sxwithultxw said he hopes officials follow through.

"Walk your talk. Show that we want to move forward as one, that we want to work together and collaborate in partnership," he said.

Listen to the full interview with carver Perry Lafortune from August 2018:

With files from Michael Tymchuk, Michael McArthur and the Canadian Press