With the official opening of Lake Cowichan’s Ts’uubaa-asatx Square drawing closer, the park’s anticipated totem pole is beginning to come to life as well. Artist Ron Hamilton arrived in town early last week, spending his time putting the finishing touches on his final sketch of the pole’s design. While the project will add a splash of colour and culture to South Shore Road, Hamilton said he hopes it will also stand as a symbol of cooperation between the town and the Ts’uubaa-asatx First Nation, and serve as inspiration for other communities.
Last year, the town announced that the naming rights to the new town square would be given to the local First Nation. The naming ceremony took place on Oct. 31 and was attended by town officials and tribal council. Aaron Hamilton, operations manager for the local First Nation, said he was “blown away” by the gesture.
“The choice of the name was where we come from,” Chief Cyril Livingstone said at the time. “We called it Ts’uubaa-asatx, the people from the front of the lake, by the rivers, by the streams. It shows that we’re the people living by the lake.”
The Ts’uubaa-asatx soon began planning their own reciprocal gift to the town, a totem pole to be placed in the square, enlisting the help of artist Ron Hamilton. Ron Hamilton’s work was featured at the cultural olympiad in Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Olympics, though the artist said his focus is on non-commercial work, consisting primarily of poles, drums and other ceremonial equipment.
Aaron Hamilton said the fundraising for the project, which began earlier this year, is now one-third complete. The group is still actively reaching out to businesses within the town to aid in funding.
“I’m surprised to see that much [funding] collected before the carving has even started,” he said. “It’s hard to see a bare log and want to support it. We’re expecting things to pick up once the carving has started.”
The next phase of the fundraising campaign, expected to start in May, will allow residents to participate in the rough carving of the pole in return for a non-minimum donation. Ron Hamilton explained another aspect of having the community involved with the creation of the pole.
“I’m interested in having help from the people in the community, especially young people — even just one swing of an axe,” he said. “They can feel an ownership over [the pole], which could save it from the vandalism many totem poles are subject to.”
The town’s acknowledgement of the local First Nation itself is a rare occurrence in Canada, especially during a turbulent time for aboriginal and non-aboriginal relations, perhaps best illustrated by calls for an inquiry on missing and murdered aboriginal women making headlines across the country. Ron Hamilton said he hopes the pole and square will stand as a symbol of cooperation between the two groups.
“It’s a very rare moment, and it should be an interesting project,” he said. “I hope it will embolden other communities to make moves to acknowledge where they are in the world. They’ve developed towns, cities and industry on our land and should be thankful for this. We, as a people, need to acknowledge that those surrounding us are not going away and that we are not going away either… I’ve spent two years doing contract work for the band, and I’ve yet to come across a road or park or anything acknowledging the First Nations.”
The design of the pole is representative of the Cowichan Lake, the area surrounding it and the history of the Ts’uubaa-asatx people. At the bottom of the pole are two wolves. At the centre is a blue bowl, representing the lake, which is flanked by two snakes. Above it is a hole representing the caves at Mesachie Lake, which will be filled with large crystals to create a prism of colours as the sun sets or rises, a feature unique to this pole. Above it are three green mountain tops and three heads, looking to the past, present and future. Ron Hamilton said the future will be looking towards the new public library, indicating that the future lies in education. The design will be drawn on the pole this week before carving begins.
“All of the people who have come by have been really charged up and excited about it,” Ron Hamilton said. “It’s nice to be involved with something that has such a good feeling surrounding it.”
The pole is expected to be complete by Labour Day weekend, when an official raising ceremony will take place. Aaron Hamilton said he plans for the pole to be man-raised. The ceremony will also include a blessing of the pole as well as some festivities.