Two poles being readied in Old Massett

  • Jun. 12, 2009 1:00 p.m.

By Judy McKinley–The workday in the carving shed is getting longer. On June 21st, two totem poles will be raised outside the Old Massett Community Hall, and the final push is on. Jaalen Edenshaw is heading up the crew at the back of the shed. Helping him is Tyson Brown and Jeffrey Williams, and Gwaai Edenshaw flew up about a month ago to round out the team. Guujaaw pops by occasionally to take instructions. Donnie Edenshaw heads the crew as you first enter the shed, and with him are Freddy Wilson and Neil Goertzen, recently joined by Vernon White.Together the two poles, Eagle and Raven, tell two sections of the Raven Travelling stories: Raven steals the Fish from Beaver and the Cormorant story. “We chose those stories because of their importance to us as a fishing village”, says Jaalen. “Once we came up with the stories we just went with it”, said Donnie. Each pole features the crests of the Raven or Eagle clan they represent.They are a relatively young gathering of carvers. But being young doesn’t mean they don’t bring a wealth of collective experience between them. Jaalen has worked on poles and a canoe with Guujaaw, and on three different poles with Jim Hart. Tyson has also worked with Mr. Hart, and Gwaai has worked on various poles with Guujaaw, as has Donnie. Neil, Vernon and Freddy have worked on poles with Christian White. All also work in different media as well: argillite, prints, boxes, jewelry and dance. Jeffrey was the main character in Sinxii’gangu, the Haida language play we saw last year, and Neil is a recent recipient of an YVR Arts scholarship. It’s a multi-talented crew.”It’s more common to be working under someone older, and it’s inspiring to be working under a younger guy that knows what he’s doing”, says Tyson Brown. “Working with Jaalen is surprisingly satisfying”, says Gwaai. “The level of understanding is high, because we speak the same [artistic] language, maybe because we trained under the same leaders.” The poles are the second and third to be raised as part of A Splash of Art, coordinated by OMVC’s Economic Development Program. By the end of the project, ten poles will be raised in the Massett area. The first was the monumental Haida Medicine Story pole carved by Christian White and apprentices that now stands outside the new hospital. Master carver Tim Boyko is just about to begin on a 10 foot pole, and 6 carvers will be working on 7 foot ‘signpost’ poles which will be placed in key areas in town over the coming months. “If you look in the old pictures there were 100s of poles in our villages, and they were raised for many occasions”, says Patricia Moore, a coordinator. “This project means we can keep more poles in our own community instead of sending them out.” In all, 20 people have been employed with the program. And the project is one of those feel-good endeavours where there are spin offs and synergies. The Culinary Arts program, for example, catered for the Medicine pole celebration – they needed hours to finish their program and had the expertise to cater. Artists from the Arts Access program, a collaboration with Northwest Community College, got valuable life experience. A plethora of funders and sponsors worked together to bring the project to fruition. And emerging artists have an opportunity to hone and display their talents, while young people can see more opportunity for themselves. “The pole will be up for a long time,” said Jeffrey Williams, “and I will be able to look at it and know “I worked on that.”The ten poles are only the first stage of a grander vision of nurturing and displaying Haida art in the community. In the next stage, Ms. Moore hopes to see the exterior of the new teen centre painted with bentwood box style murals, and that is just the beginning. . Both totem poles will be raised as part of the Village of Old Massett’s National Aboriginal Day celebrations Sunday June 21. The raising will start at 11am outside the Old Massett Community Hall, and a 4 pm screening of the newly completed Haida Language videos will precede a community celebration and dinner with dance performances and other surprises at 5 pm. All are welcome. See the stories come alive.

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