Restored Legend Pole in centre of campus rededicated and blessed

- Suzanne Ahearne

Blessing led by Fred Charlie using cedar boughs and red ochre—a mineral used in sacred ceremonies. UVIC PHOTO SERVICES

The S,YEWE Legend Pole (also known as the Elliott pole) in the UVic quad was rededicated in a ceremony as part of this year’s Indigenous Week of Welcome. The pole, by carver Temosen (Charles Elliott) of the Tsartlip First Nation, was raised in 1990.

The commission to carve the monument for UVic—Elliott points out that the word totem pole is inaccurate and hates using it—came from Martin Segger, then curator of the university’s Maltwood Gallery. When Elliott asked Segger what he wanted depicted on it, he said it had to be “something near and dear to your heart.” An Elder of his community brought him a story.

During the rededication and blessing ceremony witnessed by Elders and close to 100 members of the campus community, Elliott told the story that he carved.

The story begins at the bottom of the cedar pole with the profile of the young man SWIWLES,S, his eyes closed in concentration receiving a vision. The story that wraps around the cedar is one of love, a gift from the Creator, betrayal, attempted escape and a small black rock thrown at SWIWLES,S that turns him and his wife into stone. The couple are sitting on their heels, each looking out from the top of the pole with an identical expression of shock, the Quentoles (rock) wedged between them.

“Our history tells us,” said Elliott, “that if you’re paddling along here (on the beach below the university) you’ll see two rocks stuck in the bank and that was supposed to be them.”

Listen to Elliott’s whole dramatic telling of the story, below:

In 2013, when rot was noticed around the base of the pole, it was examined by the artist, Royal BC Museum conservator George Field and Legacy Art Galleries’ director Mary Jo Hughes. Hughes, attending the rededication, said they discovered that when “the living story pole” was raised in 1990, it was not properly installed. The pole had been sitting directly on a concrete pad and when rainwater pooled there, it was drawn up into the pole, resulting eventually in rot.

It was caught soon enough and Facilities Management took down the pole. For several months, it dried out in a tent on the quad. A new base was constructed that lifted the pole above the ground. Under the direction of Charles Elliott, artist John Livingston trimmed and restored the lower section of the pole. Livingston also repainted the pole with colours chosen by Elliott.

Listen to Hughes, below:

The Elliott pole is one of a number of Indigenous artworks on campus, for which Legacy acts as a steward. Others include the Tony Hunt poles on the far side of the quad, the spindle whorl by Susan Point in the Law Library, the shark mask in the Michael Williams Building, the Salish prints through the Cornett Building, the Douglas LaFortune welcome posts and the Charles Elliott frog posts at First Peoples House.

“One of the things I’m struck by when I come to a cultural ceremony and work with Indigenous communities,” said Nancy Wright, AVP Academic Planning, “is that we gain strength by working together. The university has its own traditions of teaching and learning and we benefit so much more from having the Indigenous community share with us their traditions and knowledge.

“Today, this cultural work that we’re doing allows us to really think about how to work together in the coming academic year and in the future.”


In this story

Keywords: Indigenous, totem, legend pole, Elliott Pole, quad, community

People: Charles Eliott

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