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Survivors Totem Pole set to rise in Pigeon Park with Park Board support

November 3 2016 Park Board supports installation of Survivors Totem Pole in Pigeon Park symbolizing community resilience

“The Board is delighted to have the Survivors Pole in this downtown park as it provides an opportunity to walk together with a powerful community coalition in the installation of a significant work of public,” says Park Board Chair Sarah Kirby-Yung.

Survivors Totem Pole

A 27-foot totem pole carved from a 1,000-year-old red cedar log from Haida Gwaii will be carried down Hastings Street in a community procession at 11:30am this Saturday to a permanent home in the heart of the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver.

After a ceremony with drumming, dancing, and regalia outside Carnegie Centre at Main and Hastings streets, the pole will be carried by DTES community members to Pigeon Park where it will be attached to an offering area and gently raised into position by a crane.

Pole raising ceremony

The Survivors Totem Pole will be raised in a potlatch ceremony with Coast Salish and Haida protocols and formally witnessed by 50 special guests including Mayor Gregor Robertson, Park Board Vice-Chair Erin Shum, and over a dozen matriarchs, elders, and hereditary chiefs.

The actual raising is expected to happen around noon at Pigeon Park and will be followed by an open-air community potlatch and celebration.

The Survivors Pole is a powerful collaboration—three years in the making—between DTES First Nations, LGBTQ activists, Japanese, Chinese, and South Asian survivors of racism and injustice. It will be raised on unceded Coast Salish Territory with permission from the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.

Attend the ceremony

You're invited to attend and respectfully observe the ceremony. Please walk, bike, or take transit because there will be traffic disruptions in the area.

A media tent will be provided on site near the sound stage, with access via the north end of Carrall Street at Cordova. Participants will be available for interviews at approximately 3:00pm, after the ceremonies have concluded and the food is being served.

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Haida carver Skundaal Bernie Williams

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. Skundaal is the only female apprentice of the late master Haida carver, Bill Reid.

“It’s really a grassroots project. I didn’t know this was going to be the Survivors Pole, and then you hear about the Chinese head tax and Japanese internment and the pole took on a life of its own,” said Skundaal.

“It really knocked the wind out of my sails, it triggered something in me. Everybody is down here for a reason. I’m glad I ended up here because this is the greatest community around. It is so unconditional and the people here are very accepting. We are fighting for our dignity, homes and cultures and this Survivors Totem Pole is a symbol of that.”

Walk together

Sacred Circle Society logoIn June 2016, the Park Board considered a request PDF file (220 KB) by project organizers – the Sacred Circle Society – to accept the permanent installation of Survivors Pole in Pigeon Park and contribute $50,000.

“The Park Board is delighted to have the Survivors Pole in this downtown park as it provides an opportunity to walk together with a powerful community coalition in the installation of a significant work of public art that honours the past and celebrates the future,” said Park Board Chair Sarah Kirby-Yung.

Partners

Project partners include the Vancouver Park Board, City of Vancouver, Portland Hotel Society, Potluck Café, and Vancouver Moving Theatre/DTES Heart of the City Festival.

In 2013, the Downtown Eastside Sacred Circle Society was established to support the vision of a community-led Survivors Totem Pole. The Board is uniquely diverse. Members include Squamish Hereditary Chief Bill Williams, Elder Woody Morrison, Elder Wilfred Price, Audrey Siegl, Sid Chow Tan, Tomiye Ishida, and Wendy Pedersen.

Preparations

Park Board operations staff are preparing the site over the next few days with planting, landscaping, clean-up, and bench replacements.

Pigeon Park will be fenced and closed to the public on Friday, November 4, so contractors and staff can complete final preparations.