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Thousands of copper nails are important markers on a carved pole that was installed on UBC’s Vancouver campus this April 1.
The nails represent thousands of Indigenous children who died in Canada’s residential schools, hammered one by one by residential school survivors, affected families, school children and others.
Officially known as Reconciliation Pole, the 55-foot red cedar pole was carved by 7idansuu (Edenshaw), James Hart, Haida master carver and hereditary chief. The pole tells the story of the time before, during, and after the Indian residential school system – a system that began in the 1800s and ended with the last school closure in 1996.
Reconciliation Pole, jointly commissioned by the Audain Foundation and UBC, will be a permanent fixture at UBC’s Vancouver campus, symbolizing the experiences of residential school students and the path toward reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada.
The bottom half of the pole represents the time before Indian residential schools and features salmon, a bear and a raven. A schoolhouse, fashioned after a residential school Hart’s grandfather attended, is carved in the middle with students holding hands above it.
The top half of the pole represents the time after residential schools and features spirits, family, and a canoe. On 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.”
Hart carved the pole from an 800-year-old red cedar tree in Haida Gwaii, on B.C.’s north coast, before it was barged down to Vancouver. Hart has spent the past several months on campus working on the finishing touches.
The pole was installed in a traditional Haida manner on April 1 at UBC’s Vancouver campus, facing north on Main Mall near Agronomy Road, on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Musqueam people.
Fittingly, the pole looks toward the future site of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, which will provide survivors and their families with access to the records of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and give UBC students and visitors ways to understand the history and lasting effects of Indian residential schools. The centre is expected to open in the 2017/18 academic year.
Santa Ono, UBC President and Vice Chancellor
“UBC is honoured to partner with Michael Audain and his family’s foundation to commission this work,” said UBC President Santa Ono. “James Hart’s carvings are truly breathtaking. 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.”
“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 James Hart. “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.”
James Hart has been carving for more than 30 years and has produced works such as the Bill Reid Memorial Pole for the Bill Reid Museum and the Three Watchmen with casts in B.C. and Ottawa. He supervised the construction of the Haida House in the Grand Hall of Canadian Museum of Civilization and restored an old Haida pole for the Smithsonian Institute in New York City. His work can be seen around the world, including in San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as in Sweden, France, and Switzerland. Hart’s work can also be seen elsewhere on UBC’s Vancouver campus; a 30-foot pole he carved stands on the grounds of the Museum of Anthropology, installed in 1982.
Michael Audain is one of Canada’s leading arts philanthropists and chairman of Polygon Homes Ltd. A UBC alumnus and former chair of the National Gallery of Canada’s Board of Trustees, he has previously supported UBC’s critical and curatorial studies program, the Audain Gallery at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology, the Audain Art Centre at UBC’s Ponderosa Commons, and exhibitions at UBC’s Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery.
Indigenous engagement at UBC
UBC has a long-standing commitment to Aboriginal engagement, a key component of the university’s strategy, formalized in the 2009 Aboriginal Strategic Plan.
UBC has many programs and courses with an Aboriginal focus, including Canada’s oldest Aboriginal law program, the most successful program for graduating Indigenous doctors in Canada, an Indigenous teacher education program in operation for more than 40 years, the First Nations and Endangered Languages program, and the First Nations and Indigenous Studies program. Many other initiatives at UBC work to further the understandings of Indigenous cultures and histories in curriculum and operations.
UBC recognizes its Vancouver and Kelowna campuses are situated on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territories of the Musqueam Indian Band and the Okanagan First Nation.
About the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre
Located in the heart of UBC’s Vancouver campus, the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre will focus on the experiences of Indigenous peoples in B.C., where many of the schools were located, and will provide local access to records for survivors and their families on the West Coast. The centre will recognize the history and experiences of residential school survivors, and memorialize the thousands of Indigenous children who died while in attendance.
Advanced use of interactive media will give visitors to the centre the opportunity to explore extensive records and testimony and form their own understandings. The centre will also serve as a hub for academic and community research, education and public programming. For more information about the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, click here.