Reconciliation poles raised

Musqueam artist William Dan says a welcome figure he carved from centuries-old cedar represents a homecoming for him, after a childhood lost to residential school and decades spent away from his traditional territories.

The figure was one of two unveiled Friday alongside a 13-metre reconciliation pole outside the Vancouver School District's Education Centre. The event marked National Indigenous Peoples Day and attendees reflected on the meaning of reconciliation.

"Reconciliation is always hard for me because I was one of them who went to the boarding schools," Dan said in an interview. "It's hard for us to get over that. I'm almost 70 years old and I still got issues on me. They really beat you down to the core.

"For me, I just wanted to do something for my tribe. While you're away at boarding school, all you want to do is go home to your parents. That's what I wanted."

Dan joined artists, local First Nations, school board officials, teachers and students to honour the three poles. The event was one of many held across Canada on Friday, including a sunrise ceremony in Toronto, a totem pole unveiling in Whitehorse and the renaming of a street in Montreal.

Vancouver Granville MP Jody Wilson-Raybould attended the event in the city and she became emotional while listening to a young Indigenous student read a poem about missing and murdered women and girls.

"Today, on Indigenous Peoples Day, we celebrate and thank all the generations that come before us, that have persevered, that have been resilient and proud and fiercely determined to create a more just Canada. And we are on our way," she said.

Squamish artist James Harry carved the bottom of the reconciliation pole while his father Xwalacktun carved the top. The upper half features a thunderbird with wings that turn into hands holding onto the earth, symbolizing healing, and a frog that represents communication of what must change, Xwalacktun said.

Harry said the bottom half features a bear, representing strength, and an eagle symbolizing vision and wisdom. He also included a woven pattern to represent the strengthening of connection between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Harry added that he hammered a loonie into the top so that when the pole comes down in 150 years, people will know which year it was made.

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