First Nations leaders gathered at UBC on Saturday to install a new Reconciliation Pole, which symbolizes the tragic experiences of residential school students in Canada.
Residential schools operated from 1876 until 1996, tearing aboriginal children away from their families, with the goal of assimilating them into white Canadian culture.
An estimated 150,000 children passed through the residential school system, with many suffering physical and sexual abuse, and more than 6,000 children dying while there.
UBC’s Reconciliation Pole marks the deaths of those children with thousands of copper nails hammered in by residential school survivors, affected families, and schoolchildren.
The 55-foot red cedar pole was commissioned by the Audain Foundation and UBC, and carved by 7idansuu (Edenshaw), James Hart, Haida master carver and hereditary chief.
“My hope for the pole is that it moves people to learn more about the history of residential schools and to understand their responsibility to reconciliation,” said Hart in a release.
“The schools were terrible places. Working on the pole has been difficult but I have loved it too. We need to pay attention to the past and work together on a brighter future.”
Hart carved the pole from an 800-year-old red cedar tree in Haida Gwaii. It was then barged down to UBC, where he spent the several months working on the finishing touches.
The pole tells the story of life before, during, and after the Indian residential school system, beginning at the bottom with depictions of salmon, a bear and a raven.
In the centre of the pole is a schoolhouse, similar to the residential school attended by Hart’s grandfather, with students holding hands above it.
The top half of the pole features spirits, family and a canoe, to represent indigenous life since the residential schools closed.
On the very top of the pole is an eagle about to take flight, which Hart said represents “the power and determination needed to look towards the future.”
Reconciliation Pole, which faces north on Main Mall near Agronomy Road, will be a permanent fixture at UBC’s Vancouver campus.
The pole will point towards the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre due to open in 2018, housing stories from survivors so their experiences aren’t forgotten.
“This pole reflects UBC’s commitment to provide continued education and awareness about the Indian residential school system and the steps we must take to move forward together,” said UBC President Santa Ono.
“James Hart’s carvings are truly breathtaking.”
Here’s a full guide to all the carvings on Reconciliation Pole (click to enlarge):
Here are some more photos from the installation ceremony this weekend: