Monumental achievement as Old Massett raises two poles

  • Jun. 22, 2009 7:00 a.m.

Submitted by John Disney, Economic Development, Old Massett-Aboriginal Day marked an historic achievement for Old Massett this year with the raising of two monumental totems that on the surface could arguably be the greatest cultural achievement for this community in history. Jaalen and Donnie Edenshaw each carved their first monumental pole on commission from the Old Massett Village Council, resulting in the emotional and awe-inspiring celebration that ran late into the night of June 21, and they did this in less than three months!Firstly, I would like to highlight the poise and dignity with which these two artists completed these works, which now stand proudly in front of the band office for the world to enjoy. Many said they couldn’t complete them by the target date; some said there were style issues; others wanted changes to be made. While these opinions swirled around their shoulders, Donnie and Jaalen quietly went on and got the job done. Their skill, talent and composure won through and now there is only praise and certainty at the amazing ability of these two artists who have firmly established themselves in the global artistic world. What many of us learned is that there are a whole lot of layers of activity that go into producing monumental pieces other than the transference of the genius of the artist themselves to the cedar log. It is critical of course that the artist keeps control of all activities around and on to the piece itself, but watching the frenzy of activity that mounted to fever pitch in the last week of carving was an experience no one in Old Massett will soon forget. The last 48 hours saw virtually no sleep for either artist along with their apprentices who never wavered from their goal. Once the realization dawned on the community that the goal of the 21st was to be met, the carving shed was never less than packed with helpers, supporters and community members who just wanted to be part of this amazing event. Families, friends, visitors and supporters eagerly threw their shoulder to the task at hand and helped with the enormous workload that carving a monumental pole entails. Organizers of the celebration madly tried to keep schedules on track, meals cooked, crowds intact, traffic under control, work crews informed, timing of everything. In the carving shed Jaalen and Donnie never wavered; they just kept carving and painting and guiding a hundred hands until they gave me the nod and we were on our way.The level of participation of community members was total. We had elders decorating the hall, youth serving food, apprentices cooking and every level of the community pitching in to make everything come together. In the end this was a community event and everyone rose to the occasion and made this the historic event it was. These two poles united the community like no other event in the last 45 years and I won’t even attempt to thank everyone individually as I would miss many. However, I have to mention two people. The most anxious issue in this entire saga boiled down to ‘can we get these two poles raised so close to the band office?’ This was a complex operation that needed skill and a cool head. Thank you Rollie Williams for providing that for us all. We can always rely on you to do what you say you will do and that is the most valuable trait from this side of the fence!Finally, behind every great event there is someone who has a vision and then goes after it. And in the wake of all the celebration and gloss there is the hard reality that everything is extremely costly and in our economy money is tight. This entire project – ‘A Splash of Art’ – was the idea of Patricia Moore from this office and she pursued her vision of what Old Massett needed with uncompromising drive. ‘No’ just wasn’t an acceptable answer as the many funders soon found out. With a budget running into high six figures this was no small achievement.The three monumentals are done and raised but there are seven smaller pieces to come. None of this would have happened without Patricia’s skill, determination and smarts and on behalf of the Old Massett Village Council I thank you Patricia and hope you realize the significance of what you have achieved – it is an inspiration to all of Haida Gwaii and beyond.