Joe David puts a hand on the totem pole he carved for the township of Tofino, and everyone who stands before it. The Tla-o-qui-aht pole is a non-commissioned gift to the District that will live indefinitely in Anchor Park, overlooking the majesty of Meares Island and Clayoquot Sound. (Nora O’Malley / Westerly News)

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations totem pole honours chiefs

Historical pole raising ceremony will be held Friday, Sept. 7 at Tofino’s Anchor Park.

Tla-o-qui-aht master carver Joe David gave birth to a totem pole over the summer. He started shaping the log, a 15 foot Western Red Cedar, in winter and come June, he was chiseling.

The totem pole or Čiinuł is carved in a style that is specific to the Tla-o-qui-aht tribe.

At the top of the pole, a Thunderbird perches above a humpback whale. Both elements represent hereditary chiefs or Ha’wiih.

“I was born to do this. This is my way of speaking about the chiefs,” said David from his carving bay in the community of Ty-Histanis.

A sun on the stomach of the Thunderbird represents the power of life and the blowhole of the whale represents the chiefs that are alive now.

There are two small knuckles on the whale to reflect mountain peaks in the the traditional land or Ha-Hoothlee of the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation.

The base of the totem pole portrays a remarkable likeness of David’s young granddaughter, Saya-hupalth, who he had lie down on the carving in order to outline her with a pencil.

Saya is meant to symbolize the future.

David left the pole unpolished so the salty sea air would eventually stain the cedar silver.

The pole will be raised at Anchor Park in Tofino on Friday, Sept. 7 at 2 p.m. A celebration dinner will follow the event at the Tofino Community Hall. Everyone is welcome.

“We need this,” said David.

Marika Swan, David’s daughter and Carving on the Edge Festival co-ordinator, articulates the significance of Friday’s totem pole raising ceremony.

“An elder, Tim Paul, said: ‘When poles are raised, we raise with it’. That’s what I’m hoping for. I hope it uplifts,” said Swan.

David has been studying carving for over 50 years.

His father, Hyaciath David, was also a master carver, elder, and chief of the Nation.

This carving is a gift for the township of Tofino, and everybody who stands beside it.

“It tells a lot,” said David. “Sit at its side in silence. It says a lot.”


VIDEO: Tla-o-qui-aht artist gifts whale fin sculpture to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve (Westerly News, Mar. 26, 2018)

Musings from a master carver (Westerly News, Nov. 14, 2016)

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