Wife of the late Robert Tait, Edna Tait (right of mortuary pole), standing with their children and grand children after they unveiled the first mortuary pole at the Fairview Cemetery, Prince Rupert on Saturday, June 15, in honour of Robert Tait’s memory and legacy as a carver. (Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View)

First ever Nisga’a mortuary totem pole unveiled in Prince Rupert cemetery on Father’s Day weekend

The pole was unveiled at Fairview Cemetery in honour of the late Robert Tait, renowned carver

Friends and family of the late Robert Tait – affectionately known to those close to him as “Chip” or “Chippy” – gathered at the Fairview Cemetery, on Saturday, June 15, to unveil the first Nisga’a mortuary totem pole in the cemetery in honour of his memory and legacy as a carver.

Tait passed away quietly on June 10, 2018 with his loving wife Edna Tait, their children, grandchildren and family members at his side at Vancouver General Hospital, one week before Father’s Day.

“We wish to continue his legacy and especially honour him on Father’s Day, we extend our well wishes to all fathers this Father’s Day. We wish to honour him in the same way our Nisga’a Chiefs and ancestors were honoured hundreds of years ago, with a totem pole,” said Edna Tait.

Robert Tait laughing with his family. (Photo courtesy of Edna Tait)

 

READ MORE: Mortuary poles were placed in villages to announce a person’s passing and reveal their status in the community.

Robert Tait — his Nisga’a Chieftain name, Wahlin Sim’oogit, “Asii T’aahl Xsgaak” — began his carving career in 1980 when he completed a carving and design course taught by his oldest brother, world renowned Nisga’a carver and artist, the late Norman Tait – who is resting beside him in the cemetery. After apprenticing under his brother, Robert Tait became an experienced wood carver, an engraver, a silversmith and goldsmith.

During his apprenticeship he assisted in the carving of two canoes. Upon completing these canoes he, along with the other carvers, paddled from Prince Rupert to his village of Gingolx. He spoke of this experience often, and how they learned to live off the land during the journey.

The Tait family’s totem poles can be viewed in Port Edward, Prince Rupert, at Vancouver’s Native Education College, in Stanley Park, at the North Vancouver Capilano Shopping Mall, and as far away as the Field Museum in Chicago, IL, Bushey Park in London, England and the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Photo of the late Robert Tait at the Native Education College Totem Pole, Raised June 28, 1985. “The energy of the day was ecstatic as you and your family made history and show cased your families Nisga’a talent and carving skills! What a Nisga’a historic day you made,” said Cecilia Martin to the Taits. (photo Cecilia Martin)

 

To honour the Tait carving legacy, Edna Tait commissioned Tahltan, Tlingit and Nisga’a carver Ken McNeil to carve a mortuary totem pole in loving memory of her husband.

“When I first began this conversation with McNeil we discussed details regarding Chip and the Tait family carving history and legacy and their representation of the Nisga’a artistic talent locally and internationally,” Edna Tait said.

Carver Ken McNeil standing next to the mortuary pole. To honour Robert Tait and his family’s carving legacy, Edna Tait commissioned the Tahltan, Tlingit and Nisga’a carver to create a mortuary totem pole in loving memory of her husband.(Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View

 

READ MORE: First Tsimshian totem pole to be raised in Prince Rupert in more than a decade

In 1991 to 1994, Chip officially opened and managed his own carving studio, Robert Tait Carvings, in Prince Rupert. His gallery was supplied with his own wood carving and jewellery, and utilized by local artists in the Prince Rupert area.

In his gallery, he proudly displayed and promoted his late mother’s and late sister’s knitting of sweaters, toques, and socks. By this time Robert Tait was well into the engraving jewellery business, and developed his own style reminiscent of his Nisga’a ancestry.

“His work was intricate, incorporating fine detail into his design along with achieving dimension by way of a gouging technique,” said Edna Tait.

Robert Tait received his nickname, Chip, from his mother, Sadie who coined his nickname for him, “Chip off the old Block” after his father Josiah Tait; he was the youngest of 10 children and their last child. “He weighed all of 5 pounds when he was born”, his mother would say, she used a pillow for his bed until he outgrew it.

Robert and Edna Tait married on November 26, 1988 in Vancouver. They chose to use the ceremonial door entrance of the Native Education College where a totem pole stood to promise their matrimonial vows to each other.

We are forever grateful to love, honour a husband, a Father and Ye’e (grandfather). “We love you, love you, love you!” A phrase our Chip said to all of us all the time. – Edna Tait


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