Nuu-chan-nulth totem pole to be raised in Victoria

By Sheila Seitcher, January 25, 2016

Moy Sutherland Jr works at carving the Nuu-chah-nulth pole in Victoria.

Photos by Sheila Seitcher

Victoria — 

The Victoria Native Friendship Centre has commissioned Nuu-chah-nulth artist Moy Sutherland Jr. to carve a 25-foot Nuu-chan-nulth totem pole. The friendship centre currently has two poles adorning the front of the centre. One Coast Salish pole and the other Kwakwaka'wakw. The centre now wants to honor all the main first nations groups on Vancouver Island, so commissioned a Nuu-chah-nulth pole.

Sutherland is from the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation, located along the west coast of Vancouver Island. He has been an artist for more than 20 years, and currently resides in Victoria and is working on the pole onsite at the friendship centre. 

He apprenticed under the late Arthur Thompson, whose lessons greatly influenced Sutherland’s work. Since the passing of his friend, Sutherland has continued to further his understanding of Nuu-chah-nulth design structure and has refined his skills.

In conjunction with the totem pole, the centre has built a carving program to mentor Native urban youth. Sutherland says he hopes to be a strong mentor like his own teacher was for him, and share his skills and knowledge with the students . 

He currently trains six students during the week and gives them a crash introductory course into carving and what it means to be an artist.

The youth are from various first nation communities on the island, and they will be working with Sutherland until the end of the commission. 

The theme of the Nuu-chah-nulth pole is “Transformation: Everything transforms into something.”

Sutherland has chosen to use iconic images prevalent in Nuu-chah-nulth art, including a wolf that transforms into a killer whale, and a human transforming into a thunderbird at the top.

Sutherland said the friendship centre helps transform people’s lives every day, and it seemed like the best concept for the pole.

The pole will be raised on the lawn at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre on March 24 at noon.  Everyone is invited to participate and help on the ropes to raise the pole. Sutherland said it will be a proud day to be Nuu-chah-nulth, and he hopes people will come out and support him.

To see more of Moy’s work, visit