Tofino joined the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation at Anchor Park on Friday to celebrate the raising of a totem pole carved by master carver Joe David.
David carved the totem pole to honour the Tla-o-qui-aht’s hereditary chiefs, Ha’wiih, and gifted it to Tofino to be erected in the community as a celebration of the West Coast’s First Nations presence. After the totem pole was in place, David told the Westerly News he was pleased and thankful to see such a large turnout show their support at the event.
“Today was an incredible day,” said Tla-o-qui-aht councillor Terry Dorward. “It was a day that will go down in Tla-o-qui-aht history when master carver Joe David gifted the chiefs this beautiful totem pole that represents our traditional laws and teachings as Tla-o-qui-aht people and recognizes Tla-o-qui-aht sovereignty here in the Tofino area. Our hereditary chiefs need to be upheld. Our teachings and laws need to be in place and this is a reminder of it.”
Dorward added that the totem pole is an important symbol of the Tla-o-qui-aht’s presence.
“We are here. In 2018, we are still here. We have been displaced. We’ve been dislocated. We’ve been marginalized in our own traditional territories and today we’re stepping out of these small little Indian Reserves that they put us in through the Indian Act and we’re saying, ‘No. We’re still here. We’re in all of Tofino and we’re in all of our traditional territory and we’re going to make our presence known.’”
Tofino mayor Josie Osborne called the event a “once in a lifetime experience.”
“We’ve been given an incredible gift by the Ha’wiih, the chiefs, of the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation,” she said. “I don’t think words can express how I feel and what a tremendous thing this is for the community of Tofino.”
She said David’s totem pole would help educate residents and visitors about the traditional territory they’re living in or visiting.
“I think this is the first time that the community has really come together this way and honoured the Ha’wiih,” she said. “The Ha’wiih are the ones who have the responsibility for these lands, the ocean, this territory, the people and all living things in it.”
Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns heralded the totem pole and raising ceremony as an important and significant step towards reconciliation.
“It’s a huge honour to be here and to witness really a historic event in Canada…I can’t think of another municipality or city throughout Canada that has taken this step towards reconciliation of actually officially recognizing that they are under the responsibility of the hereditary chiefs,” he said. “Today the district of Tofino and the people of Tofino have come together to acknowledge that this is the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht and that the Ha’wiih, the hereditary chiefs, are the ones who are responsible for these lands.”