Charles Joseph - Traditional Kwakiutl Art
This is the address given to the audience at the unveiling of the pole in Montreal as read by Michael Lickers.
This story is about a very special, Kwakiutl pole carved by Charles Joseph Sr.
The artist would like you to note that this is a contemporary form of sharing, a written form. Historically our people shared the old ways - person to person, with careful consideration of our oral history. As a Lak’walis (someone from the other side of the mountains), I am honoured and humbled to write this for my adopted brother, Charles Joseph Sr., and direct to do so by the Hereditary Chiefs, in hopes that I do justice to the profound story of his personal experience as St Micheal residential school in Alert Bay B.C. The purpose is to share with society, the story of all children who attended residential schools in Canada. They are our relatives and our people; they will see this pole and the purpose of its creation. I only pray that I can tell this as Charles intended.
The dream unfolded in several stages, from the Wild Woman welcoming home
the children who attended St. Michael’s residential school, on Alert Bay to Kolus. The dream was to dedicate this Totem Pole to the residential school legacy and the journey of rediscovery that every Indigenous individual is on today. Our people seek healing, a path that is often guided by cultural teachings and the wisdom of Elders.
Charles had a powerful dream, a vision to work together and heal as a people,
relying on the wisdom and teachings of his relatives and ancestors. The work involved in creating a Totem Pole was equally as powerful; together the dream and its creation was the challenging work; all while dealing with this delicate subject. Having to relive experiences while carving was no easy task, yet surrounded by some of the most dedicated and talented young people and carvers, this Totem Pole is a true reflection of what their future can be.
Each of the animals represented on this pole, have a unique story and offer a
pathway to understanding the healing process from an Indigenous perspective and
worldview, the importance of healing self, the value and wisdom of the ancestors:
The Wild Woman of the world, Tsonokwa is surrounding the Residential School
children and she is taking them back to the world of our ancestors, protecting them. Her role was to take care of the children, and the hope that they would not be taken away from their families. Tsonokwa struggled to keep the children safe, as she watched; the mothers and fathers look on as the Government, Churches and RCMP took the children.
The Whale is surrounded by many faces, representing the faces of the young
children adopted or taken from their families, as shared the whale surrounds the world and travels from ocean to ocean. This part of the pole gives life to all those children taken and as adults, the Whale spirit seeks to provide the survivors with healing. Upon returning home the children were often not welcomed by either family and they were lost, hence the Whale took care of all the lost children safely bringing them home.
Raven is the trickster, the one who tricked our people to be taken by the
churches, being molested, destroying our language and culture. The Religion took away our highest ranking people, ones who took up religion. Many were, jailed and shamed for who they were and what they believed. In Kwakiutl culture, the Raven is the trickster, and the Raven reminds us about the trick that, the Residential schools did to our people in the process of attempted acculturation and assimilation. The survivors need not be blamed for how the pain that was inflicted on them in this process affected their lives and the lives of their descendants. This pole will let all that negativity go, pain or sorrow and will allow us to reconnect with our family histories, and what is rightfully ours.
This part of the pole represents all the children who never made it home, the
faces are white. Some of the young children never had the chance to say good-bye to each other let alone their families. For all the children who died in the schools, the ones that never made it home, from St. Michael’s or other schools in Canada, the Bear Spirit will take care of them.
The artist had some very dear friends from the Northern communities, and they
shared the same or similar experiences as Charles. The fox is to represent the storyteller of the Northern people. It was the first story that Charles heard as a young boy. The Fox honours those friends and a young boy James Cook, who spent days helping carve and watch the poles creation. The single face is James and surrounded by the fox. The fox is telling the story to the face.
At the top of the pole is Kolus, which represents Charles’s family and where his
Chief comes from. Inside the Kolus is the Sisiulth, both having supernatural powers and is a representative of powers, the Wannock and Joseph families that Charles carries. There are crosses that are carved on the pole, crosses that Charles has had to carry for many years. This Totem Pole and its creation is a way of releasing his pain and to move forward in a good way, keeping his culture alive and to honour his Nation, family, Mom and Dad, Chiefs and Hamatsa’s.
This pole is dedicated to all the Children who attended residential schools; this
pole is to honour your experiences, to allow us all to be proud as Indigenous Peoples, and most of all to honour ourselves. Thank you to all the nations.
You don’t just raise a Totem Pole in someone’s land, It is our intention to ask
permission of the Mohawk Nation of Kahnawà:ke, the people whose land we stand on today to exercise respectfully a cultural sharing. The permission to raise and
temporarily share this Totem Pole with citizens of Montreal and Canada is a story of
reconciliation this is rightfully ours to celebrate with you, our way of life. The Totem
will live forever; the story will go on.
Dr. Michael Lickers – Mohawk – Six Nations of the Grand River