Witnessing the Unveiling of a Welcome Pole
On September 22nd, 2018, a Squamish Nation welcome pole, carved by Richard Baker, was unveiled near the southeastern shore of Chá7elkwnech, which is the Squamish word for what is known as Gambier Island in English - an unceded, ancestral, and traditional territory of the Squamish Nation. The unveiling ceremony was attended by representatives of the Squamish Nation, the David Suzuki Foundation, Camp Fircom, The United Church, and many members of these communities. I was asked to serve as a witness for this event, and so I am to the best of my ability providing an account of it here, so that it is remembered.
After all the guests arrived, members of the Squamish Nation began their facilitation of the day with two of their powerful songs: Syexwaliya (a greeting of the day) and Stla7ashen (a feast song). A rich meal of salmon, various vegetables, and other dietary options was served as the communities in attendance shared and made merry. Afterwards, everyone in attendance made their way to the place where the welcome pole had been raised and waited to be unveiled.
As the unveiling ceremony began, members of Squamish Nation sang Schetxw Slulem (Totem Song). Facilitators from the Squamish Nation blanketed representatives of Camp Fircom, the United Church, and the Squamish Nation. As explained by the Squamish, blanketing is an act performed to care for the hearts of those who receive it. Witnesses (2 selected by Camp Fircom and 2 selected by the Squamish Nation) were asked to step forward, and thanked for sharing their experience of the ceremony with a traditional offering of 50 cent coins (in this case, symbolized by 2 quarters).
The process of waking up the pole then began. The tarps covering the pole were removed, and women from the Squamish Nation sprinkled it with water, while men from the Nation sang the Power Paddle Song, or Honour Song. Although Richard Baker could not attend, the Squamish explained that the carver of the pole would normally also be adorned with water, as a way of separating the intense connection between carver and pole.
When the women of the Squamish Nation finished their work and the men finished their singing, words were shared both by Squamish Nation and the witnesses of the event. Acknowledgements were made of the work done by everyone present towards building the relationships that were there, of the momentum carried to the unveiling in the independent work of the communities present, of wrongs in the history of colonialism, and of the goodness to be found in the relationships being celebrated that day. These sentiments were concluded as the Squamish Nation sang Yewyews Slulem (Killer Whale song) and members of the Squamish Nation, The David Suzuki Foundation, Camp Fircom, and the United Church danced around the welcome pole.
While the ceremony concluded with words from the Squamish Nation, I was joyful in the opportunity to be there.
Many thanks to everyone who put their energy into the day. To Sempulyan, Chantelle, and other members of the Squamish K'xwu7lh family for facilitating (and to Sempulyan for sharing the names of the songs sung with me). To Camp Fircom for helping to organize and for hosting. To Steven Foster of the David Suzuki Foundation, who over the years has played a pivotal role in connecting all these communities. To the BC Conference of the United Church of Canada which, through Steven’s assistance, was able to commission the welcome pole. And to all others who took part in the ceremony.
During the meal that was shared during the day, rosemary grown from Fircom’s gardens decorated many of the plates. I wore some of this rosemary to the ceremony in my shirt pocket… and to my surprise, a friend of mine informed me that it is an herb associated with remembrance. I could only think that this was appropriate.
May this day be remembered, and the goodness present in it be carried forward in all the days to come.
With all my good wishes,