Governor General witnesses unveiling of totem pole carved by Freda Diesing School

TERRACE – A totem pole designed and carved by instructors and graduates of the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art was unveiled Sunday, July 4 in Chengdu, China in a ceremony presided over by a Canadian delegation that included Her Excellency the Right Honourable Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean and Grand Chief Edward John of the First Nations Summit.

Representing Northwest Community College (NWCC) and the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art (FDS) was master carver and FDS program coordinator Stan Bevan.

“I was honoured that I was able to represent Northwest Community College, along with First Nations Summit, Grand Chief Edward John, Chief Dan Smith, Kitselas representative Wilfred Jr. Bennett and Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada in presenting the totem pole to Beichuan’s Qiang people,” said Bevan.

The Chinese city of Beichuan was levelled by a 7.9 magnitude earthquake in May 2008, with half of its estimated 30,000 residents killed – the majority of the victims the indigenous Qiang people. With the original city still inaccessible, Beichuan has been resurrected 30 kilometres away in Chengdu. It is in this rebuilt city that Bevan was part of the ceremony in which the 4.9-metre totem pole was delivered to Beichuan’s Qiang people during the Governor General’s friendship visit to China.

The July 4 ceremony kicked off with Grand Chief Edward John, reading a poem he wrote for the ceremony. A reply was then made by a senior Beichuan official; he thanked Canada’s First Nations people for the support in their tragedy, rebuilding and the gift of the pole. He acknowledged the pole’s importance and said it would be placed in a new museum when completed in a year. He also requested all info about the pole to document it properly.

Bevan was joined by Grand Chief John, Chief Smith, Bennett and Qiang Spiritual Leader Mr. Mu as they  unveiled the totem pole with a drum song and eagle down.

The Qiang people then did a 15-minute ceremony for the pole, starting with a drum dance and a blessing by their Spiritual Leader. This was followed by a group of female dancers who placed ribbons on the pole, followed by a young man playing a flute by the pole. Then two Elder women stood at the top and bottom of the pole and performed a song, then the entire Qiang group danced in celebration.

“I am overjoyed to join you today to mark the unveiling of the totem pole that symbolizes the strong ties of solidarity that link Canada and China, and in particular the First Nations peoples and the Qiang,” said the Governor General. “May this stand as an enduring symbol of the bonds of fraternity that link Canada and China as strong allies, strategic partners, and excellent friends.”

The idea to gift a totem pole came during a BC First Nations Forestry Council trade mission to China shortly after the earthquake. First Nations leaders were witness to the terrible devastation that occurred. As a result of that mission, the idea of carving a tribute pole was born and the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art was commissioned for the work.

Bevan added: “I felt a connection with the Qiang and the similarity they have to First Nations that Grand Chief Edward John felt when he began his journey of support.”

Unable to attend the ceremony, NWCC President Stephanie Forsyth was nonetheless delighted that the College was asked to play a role in such a moving display of cross-cultural support.

“The cost to attend the China ceremony was prohibitive, so we put our funds behind Stan to represent the College. We owe a great deal of gratitude to Grand Chief Edward John for selecting the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art – its instructors and graduates – to produce a piece that represents First Nations from across this wide and diverse country,” states Forsyth. “It is doubly rewarding to have had Her Excellency the Right Honourable Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean be part of the unveiling ceremony. This is truly a privilege Northwest Community College will always take great pride in.” 

The Grizzly and Eagle totem pole was co-designed by Bevan and fellow FDS instructor and carver Ken McNeil. Titus Auckland, Brian McKee, Jackie McNeil and Darryl Moore, all four FDS graduates, assisted in the pole’s carving. The pole was completed in January 2010 and was blessed by First Nations Chiefs and Elders at NWCC Terrace Campus.

Also present for the ceremony were Environment Minister Jim Prentice and Canadian Ambassador to China David Mulroney.

For more information contact:

Dave O’Leary Chief Information Officer Northwest Community College Phone: 250.638.5402 Toll-Free: 1.877.277.2288 Email: doleary@nwcc.bc.ca