Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation master carver and artist Joe David believes Tofino needs more visible First Nations’ culture and he’s ready to put his hands to work to make it happen.
David offered to carve and donate a totem pole to Tofino during Aug. 23’s regular council meeting. He said he had located a suitable log on Wickaninnish Island and asked the district to cover the cost of transporting the log to Ty-Histanis.
Council unanimously agreed to this request and also agreed to cover the cost of installing and maintaining the completed pole. Council directed its staff to work with David to finalize the details including projected costs.
David advised council to look into insurance as well.
“It’s going to be a very valuable thing,” he said. “Even over decades the value keeps going up and, when I die, it’s going to really go up.”
David was born and raised in Opitsaht but traveled throughout Texas and Seattle before settling back on the West Coast about four years ago.
“I was surprised by how much the town has grown and I was really surprised that there was very little presence of my people here,” he said.
“People come from all over the world and I’m sure a lot of them probably are hoping to see a bit of that…And, everybody loves a totem pole. It would be one of the most photographed things in town.”
He said he had hoped a pole he carved in 1984 for the Meares Island logging protests would one day sit in Tofino.
“It didn’t come back home because, as it worked out, it belonged to the world so now it’s at a museum in Vancouver,” he said. “When I carved that, I thought that would be here someplace. But, I’m still strong and able to do something else.”
He said the pole would be roughly five metres high and suggested Tofino’s Anchor Park might be a solid spot for its installation. He said the pole could be ready by next year’s Carving on the Edge festival.
Coun. Dorothy Baert was thrilled with the offer.
“I understand also why you’re doing it and I absolutely concur,” she said. “To make that connection and to recognize our relationship is important.”
Coun. Greg Blanchette agreed.
“I’ve long maintained, in my work with various arts groups, that a much stronger Tla-o-qui-aht cultural presence in town will benefit everybody on any number of levels,” Blanchette said. “I hope that this is just the first of many more Tla-o qui-aht art installations.”
After the meeting, Mayor Josie Osborne told the Westerly that David’s offer was astounding.
“The history, culture, and presence of Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations in this area has been buried or ignored for far too long. We all live here together, but too many people visit the area not realizing there were others here for thousands of years before Europeans arrived, and that those people are still here today,” she said.
“Increasing First Nations art and language within these municipal borders is a strong reminder of our shared presence, and to me a simple act of acknowledgement and respect. I am absolutely thrilled that Joe David has made this offer to the district of Tofino. Honestly, the act of the offer itself is incredible because it indicates that someone feels we are ready to receive this gift. I think that might even be more significant to me that the gift itself. It’s huge.”