Fire-damaged totem pole returns to Malahat summit after restoration

Fire-damaged totem back

First Nations officials and other dignitaries held a private ceremony to unveil the refurbished Salish Bear totem pole on Vancouver Island's Malahat summit on Thursday.

The pole had been damaged in a deliberately set fire in July 2021 in what appeared to be an act of retaliation for the toppling of a statue of Captain James Cook on Victoria’s Inner Harbour the day before.

After the fire, the pole was removed in accordance with cultural protocols in a cleansing ceremony. Cowichan carver Doug August was tasked with refurbishing the pole, carved by the late Stan Modeste in 1966 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the joining of the Colony of Vancouver Island with the Colony of British Columbia.

On Thursday the Modeste family, along with representatives of the Cowichan Tribes, Malahat, Halalt, Lyackson, Stz’uminus, and Penelakut First Nations, City of Duncan, Municipality of North Cowichan and the Cowichan Valley Regional District, was on hand to return the restored totem to its original location at the Malahat summit.

“Today’s ceremony was healing for our family members after last year’s hateful act directed at the iconic totem carved by our father, the late Stan Modeste,” the Modeste family said in a statement. “He used his talents to share with the world Quw’utsun culture and teachings around the sacredness of nature. We are pleased to see the Salish Bear restored to its intended beauty.”

Cowichan Tribes Chief Lydia Hwitsum said “historic injustices and ongoing racist attacks” weigh heavily on the community. “Quw’utsun people are taught by our elders to help one another and work together for the good of all. It has been greatly appreciated to see and experience the support of the larger community for the repair and re-installation of Stan Modeste’s Salish Bear Totem.”

Stan Modeste, who died in 1981, served as Cowichan Tribes chief for two terms.

The family and Cowichan Tribes commended the City of Duncan for its partnership and support in the pole’s restoration and return.

“When this pole was burned in a senseless act of racism, an elder shared with me the protocol process the carver, Stan Modeste, went through before he created the living, breathing ­representation of the culture that he was generous enough to share,” said Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples. “This process of restoration has shown once again the generosity of the Quw’utsun people, and I am thankful for our work together to bring this pole back.”

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