Gord Dick overseas the lowering of an 800-year-old cedar log by Port Alberni's waterfront last March. Since then a team of carvers have been at work to transform the piece into a totem pole, signifying the revitalization of Indigenous languages. (Eric Plummer photo)
The figures of Nuu-chah-nulth relatives are slowly emerging from the 800-year-old red cedar log at Port Alberni’s waterfront as master carver Tim Paul and his team work tirelessly at the piece of art. The pole was commissioned by the First Nations Education Foundation in recognition of the UN 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages.
The cost of the pole project is estimated at $350,000; including in-kind donations from industry and others. Some funds, donated manpower and equipment were used when the log was transported from the forest floor in Huu-ay-aht territory in March 2019.
Since that time the log was trimmed and rot removed; carving has commenced.
But not all of the funding is in place.
FNEF Executive Director Scott Jeary told Ha-Shilth-Sa that he had hoped that all of the funding would be in place by January or February of this year, but there have been setbacks that he was not at liberty to discuss.
The totem pole funding is tied together with a Nuu-chah-nulth language revitalization project underway at Yuułuʔiłʔaht Nation. That portion of the language initiative is budgeted at $650,000, producing a learning tool that will include 13 other Nuu-chah-nulth nations.
While fundraising efforts are ongoing Jeary says they are still short by $300,000 for the totem pole and language project.
“The First Nations Education Foundation is a not-for-profit society and we have applied to various funding sources and have been waiting,” he told Ha-Shilth-Sa.
He said he had hoped to have all the funding in place by February of this year but answers from contributors have been slow. Despite all that, the carvers are being paid and there are no outstanding bills with the University of Victoria in regard to engineering and installation of the pole.
“We have an MOU in place with UVIC; they have been fantastic,” said Jeary.
He said he’s heard from the carving team that no government officials have visited the site as long as they’ve been working, including local MLA and B.C. Minister of Indigenous Affairs and Reconciliation, Scott Fraser, or Port Alberni Mayor Shari Minions. He acknowledged that there is some level of frustration that this project, which represents awareness of reconciliation, has not received support from government.
Fraser said that the government is committed to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, with $50 million from last year’s budget targeted at language revitalization. Since 2018 and into 2020 the government invested $2.8 million to support First Nations language revitalization in Nuu-chah-Nulth territory, Fraser noted.
“That has included funding to support programs being delivered in Indigenous communities in the region by Ditidaht Community School, Hesquiaht Language Program, Port Alberni Friendship Centre, Tseshaht First Nation, Ucluelet First Nation, Toquaht Nation, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nations, and Ahousaht Education Society, among others,” he said.
Fraser stressed that it’s critical that funding be strategic and focused on programs that foster fluent speakers.
“We will continue to focus our funding on language programs that have strong outcomes for communities and people through established best practices in language revitalization,” Fraser added.
He went on to say that government staff have been in touch with the First Nations Education Foundation a number of times and supported them in seeking resources available through government programs.
Jeary says he hopes government contributions will come and he’s confident that things will fall into place in time for the pole raising ceremony scheduled for later this year at UVic.