Artist Mike Dangeli sketches a figure on the Highway of Tears memorial totem pole he is carving under a tent in his back yard in Terrace on July 22. (Jake Wray/Terrace Standard)

Highway of Tears memorial totem pole to be raised on Kitsumkalum territory west of Terrace

Totem pole will stand overlooking the Skeena river, providing place for families to visit, remember

After years of planning, a commemoration and healing totem pole honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women will be raised at a highway pullout on Kitsumkalum territory west of Terrace in September.

The totem pole is not just for missing and murdered Indigenous women — in a way, it’s also for missing and murdered people of all ages, colours and genders, as well as for two-spirit and LGBTQ people. That’s because totem poles represent fluid, metaphorical ideas and should not be interpreted in direct, concrete terms, said Mike Dangeli, the lead artist carving the totem pole.

“The reading isn’t necessarily ‘this means this’ or ‘this equals this’ like in the English language,” he said.

Arlene Roberts, who is a key organizer of the memorial totem pole and Dangeli’s mom, said the physical monument is less important than the message it sends.

“It’s time to have the courage and step forward in saying ‘No more. No more stolen sisters.’ It’s time to make a cultural statement, a traditional statement,” she said. “What we’re talking about is honouring the families, and it’s treasuring the souls and spirits of the stolen sisters and boys and men, it’s honouring the two-spirited LGBTQ … and they’re not just First Nations. There are non-First-Nations who are going missing as well.”

The idea to create a memorial came from Gladys Radek, a local advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women. After her niece Tamara Chipman disappeared near Prince Rupert in 2005, Radek started organizing awareness walks — including a walk from Vancouver to Prince Rupert, and a walk across Canada. Eventually, Radek became involved with the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls as an advisor and as an advocate for families coming forward to share stories.

During all that hard work that began years ago with awareness walks, she said, she always envisioned creating a memorial for families in the Northwest.

“This is kind of closing the circle for me from the walks,” she said. “I wanted a space where our families could go, to find a little bit of healing, a little bit of peace, and a little bit of honouring their loved ones.”

Dangeli, an artist with Nisga’a, Tsimshian, Tlingit and Tsetsaut heritage, has been working on the totem pole under a tent in his back yard on Terrace’s Southside since September, alongside his adult sons Michael Dangeli and Nick Dangeli. He’s carved more than 20 totem poles but never one so close to home in the Northwest, he said.

The 24-foot totem pole is is not fully carved yet, but some of the figures are starting to take shape. Dangeli pointed out the main and largest figure on the totem pole, a young woman who will have a red dress and face paint. She will represent missing and murdered indigenous women. Above her is a matriarch figure. The bottom figure, which is a crucial figure because it bears the weight of the totem pole, is a killer whale, to acknowledge that the totem pole will be on Kitsumkalum killer whale clan territory. Many other figures will adorn the totem pole when it is ready.

Originally the totem pole was meant to be completed in time for a June 5 raising ceremony, but the ceremony was postponed until September because of the pandemic. That was fortunate, Dangeli said, because it allowed the artistic team to slow down their timeline and work with extra care.

“Because of the energy and the subject matter, it’s really important that we get it done right,” he said. “My sons, before we even touched it in the raw log form, I took them out on the Skeena River, and we did ritual bathing.”

“When it was just still a log but shaped out to be a pole … We had the kids come down and sweep it with cedar boughs, and again, water from the Skeena, just to bless it and we had elders and chiefs and matriarchs come down to just get it in a good way.”

The raising ceremony will take place Sept. 4 and Sept. 5 in what Dangeli called a “virtual potlatch” to accommodate pandemic precaution measures.

The totem pole will be raised on Sept. 4, and the following day dancers, chiefs and matriarchs will breath life into the totem pole.

Only a small group of people will be physically present at any given time, but the event will be live-streamed by CFNR so anyone can participate from home.

The memorial totem pole project has received plenty of funding and other support, Roberts said.

She is grateful to co-organizers Marc Snelling and Wanda Good, as well as Highway of Tears families, friends and walkers, the Indian Residential School Survivors Society (where she also works), Kitsumkalum chiefs and matriarchs, Women and Gender Equality Canada, and B.C.’s ministry of transportation.

“We’ve just had some incredible people coming along the line and saying, ‘What can we do? How can we help you paddle, make this journey in this canoe?’” Roberts said.



jake.wray@terracestandard.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

A memorial totem pole in honour of missing and murdered Indigenous women will be raised in September. Organizers Arlene Roberts, Marc Snelling and Gladys Radek along with carver Mike Dangeli are seen here with the partially-finished pole under a tent in Dangeli’s back yard on Terrace’s Southside July 16, 2020. (Jake Wray/Terrace Standard)

Just Posted

Smithers man leaves $1 million to children’s hospital

Jim Bolster wanted to help out children with health problems like his own

QUIZ: How much do you know about British Columbia?

On this B.C. Day long weekend, put your knowledge of our province to the test

New ownership resurrects BV Taxi

The new owners expect to be taking fares by mid-August

Tahltan Nation closes hunting and recreational activity access points

The remote and vulnerable territory has limited medical capacity

Kinsmen plan to host scaled-down version of Telkwa BBQ

Club hoping to serve traditional Beef on a Bun and keep status of longest running event in B.C.

VIDEO: Otter pups learn to swim at B.C. wildlife rescue facility

Watch Critter Care’s Nathan Wagstaffe help seven young otters go for their first dip

Alleged impaired driver sparks small wildfire near Lytton after crash: B.C. RCMP

Good Samaritans prevented the blaze from getting out of control

Travel restrictions inspiring co-operation in border communities

Small border towns are asking for exemption to travel ban

B.C. First Nation adopts ‘digital twinning’ software to better manage territory

Software allows users to visualize what a mountain might look like if the trees on its slopes were logged

All inquiry recommendations implemented after fatal Port Hardy RCMP shooting: Ministry

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. cleared the RCMP officers involved of wrongdoing

Leave your deets when dining: Restaurants taking personal info to trace COVID-19

Health officials say indoor dining presents a higher risk

Raptors kneel for both American and Canadian anthems ahead of tipoff

Majority of players have substituted their names on the backs of their jerseys with racial and social justice messages

Wild’s Mathew Dumba makes anti-racism speech, kneels ahead of Blackhawks vs. Oilers

Matt Dumba, 26, took to center ice to speak on behalf of fellow members of the Hockey Diversity Alliance

Most Read