Hume School’s totem pole, which had stood since 1972, is seen here being removed from the school grounds. The pole was deemed culturally inappropriate and also a danger to students. Photo submitted

Totem pole considered cultural appropriation removed from Nelson’s Hume School

The pole had also become rotted and was seen as dangerous to students

Janene Stein still remembers carving the Hume School pole as a student. Nearly 50 years later she wishes she hadn’t.

In the early 1970s, the Nelson elementary school decided to construct a story pole in the style of totem poles made by First Nations peoples such as the Haida, Kwakwaka’wakw and Tsimshian on the west coast of B.C.

The pole’s construction was considered a centennial project and did not include any Indigenous consultation or participation. Totem poles are also not part of local First Nations’ culture in the West Kootenay.

So when it was raised on Nov. 15, 1972, as a monument to endangered species, Stein said there was no consideration given to the pole as cultural appropriation.

“The spiritual aspect was not thought about or talked about when we were carving these images, but now we have a different perspective on what that means,” said Stein, who is now principal at Hume School.

In July, the pole was removed from Hume after its base was found to be rotting. Stein said she had watched students climb on the pole, which had begun swaying from its location at the edge of the school yard overlooking Nelson Avenue.

But Stein had already approached School District 8 about the pole’s problematic history in 2019 with a presentation to the district’s Aboriginal Advisory Council of Education, which includes representation from the Lower Kootenay Band, the local Métis chapter and Colville Confederated Tribes.

The history, she said, was not apparent to passersby.

“If you are someone who didn’t know the stories from the 70s and you drive by it, that’s what you’re looking at. You’re looking at something that appears to be cultural appropriation, even though the intention absolutely was not.”

Initially, Stein said the plan was to make the pole’s removal into a school project in relation to reconciliation. But the COVID-19 lockdown, as well as the pole’s deteriorating condition, forced that plan to be scrapped.

The pole, which was actually located on city-owned land, was then removed by city employees before it was cut into pieces.

Superintendent Christine Perkins said the pole was dismantled in part because it had rotted, but also because the district didn’t want to see it moved to a new location.

“We don’t want to be seen as a community and as a district that’s involved in cultural appropriation,” said Perkins.

District principal of Aboriginal education Gail Higginbottom said early discussions are underway with First Nations stakeholders to replace the pole with regionally appropriate artwork.

The removal of the pole, she said, is part of an ongoing and necessary national reassessment of the past.

“It is about having conversations, it’s about asking hard questions, it’s about critically looking at what we have taken for granted as culturally appropriate,” said Higginbottom.

“I think that it is a community responsibility, it’s a friendship circle responsibility, it’s a kitchen table responsibility, it’s work we’ll do with our colleagues, with our children. It is such an opportunity to really critically look at what you know, what symbols hold in terms of value systems and cultural understanding.”

Stein, whose own hands helped build the pole, now views it as a learning opportunity for her students and the community.

“Our whole country needs healing, and this is healing it,” she said. “We have to go back and say, ‘what did we do [and] was that right?’”

Related:

Art as reconciliation: Ymir artist hosting BC Culture Days event

B.C. or Ontario? Residential school survivors fight move of court battle

@tyler_harper | tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

EducationIndigenous reconcilliation

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

There has been COVID-19 exposures at two elementary schools in District 42. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 24 additional COVID-19 cases

This includes three school exposures in Kelowna

Calvin Domin is running to raise awareness and funds for teen mental health resources. (Photo Contributed)
Locals run to fundraise for youth mental health

Proceeds go the the EKFH’s Not Alone campaign raising money to support the opening of the Foundary

Incumbent MLA Tom Shypitka is contesting Kootenay East for the BC Liberals. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Wilkinson would have been a great premier: Shypitka

Re-elected Kootenay East MLA responds to resignation of party leader

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

Tom Shypitka, pictured with his campaign team. on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. Trevor Crawley photo
Updated: Shypitka wins second term; BC NDP cruise to majority

“Election Days,” rather than “Election Day,” may be the more accurate term… Continue reading

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 to win the baseball World Series in Game 6 Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
L.A. Dodgers beat Rays 3-1 to win 1st World Series title since 1988

National League champs claim crown in six games

Seven-year-old Aaliyah Rosa was found dead in an apartment in Langley in July. (Langley Advance Times files)
Child’s body cold, no pulse: Off-duty cop testifies in Langley mother’s murder trial

The seven-year-old girl’s mother faces a first-degree murder charge

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

People march during a climate strike in Montreal, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Judge rejects 15 youths’ climate change lawsuit against Canadian government

Justice Michael Manson has granted the government’s motion to strike the plaintiffs’ claim

A woman walks through check in at WestJet at Pearson International airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Strong support for pre-flight COVID testing ahead of upcoming WestJet trial: YVR

Airport is partnering with UBC, which is helping choose the method of pre-flight testing

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo
Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada/USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
U.S. election results one factor that could impact immigration to Canada next year

The survey polled 1,523 Canadians between Oct. 23 and Oct. 25

Most Read