Highway of Tears memorial totem pole to be raised in northern B.C.

A memorial totem pole in honour of missing and murdered Indigenous women will be raised in September. Organizers Arlene Roberts, Marc Snelling and Gladys Radek along with carver Mike Dangeli are seen here with the partially-finished pole under a tent in Dangeli’s back yard on Terrace’s Southside July 16, 2020. (Jake Wray/Terrace Standard)
Artist Mike Dangeli sketches a figure on the Highway of Tears memorial totem pole he is carving under a tent in his back yard in Terrace on July 22. (Jake Wray/Terrace Standard)

After years of planning, a commemoration and healing totem pole honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women will be raised at a highway pullout on Kitsumkalum territory west of Terrace in September.

The totem pole is not just for missing and murdered Indigenous women — in a way, it’s also for missing and murdered people of all ages, colours and genders, as well as for two-spirit and LGBTQ people. That’s because totem poles represent fluid, metaphorical ideas and should not be interpreted in direct, concrete terms, said Mike Dangeli, the lead artist carving the totem pole.

“The reading isn’t necessarily ‘this means this’ or ‘this equals this’ like in the English language,” he said.

Arlene Roberts, who is a key organizer of the memorial totem pole and Dangeli’s mom, said the physical monument is less important than the message it sends.

“It’s time to have the courage and step forward in saying ‘No more. No more stolen sisters.’ It’s time to make a cultural statement, a traditional statement,” she said. “What we’re talking about is honouring the families, and it’s treasuring the souls and spirits of the stolen sisters and boys and men, it’s honouring the two-spirited LGBTQ … and they’re not just First Nations. There are non-First-Nations who are going missing as well.”

The idea to create a memorial came from Gladys Radek, a local advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women. After her niece Tamara Chipman disappeared near Prince Rupert in 2005, Radek started organizing awareness walks — including a walk from Vancouver to Prince Rupert, and a walk across Canada. Eventually, Radek became involved with the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls as an advisor and as an advocate for families coming forward to share stories.

During all that hard work that began years ago with awareness walks, she said, she always envisioned creating a memorial for families in the Northwest.

“This is kind of closing the circle for me from the walks,” she said. “I wanted a space where our families could go, to find a little bit of healing, a little bit of peace, and a little bit of honouring their loved ones.”

Dangeli, an artist with Nisga’a, Tsimshian, Tlingit and Tsetsaut heritage, has been working on the totem pole under a tent in his back yard on Terrace’s Southside since September, alongside his adult sons Michael Dangeli and Nick Dangeli. He’s carved more than 20 totem poles but never one so close to home in the Northwest, he said.

The 24-foot totem pole is is not fully carved yet, but some of the figures are starting to take shape. Dangeli pointed out the main and largest figure on the totem pole, a young woman who will have a red dress and face paint. She will represent missing and murdered indigenous women. Above her is a matriarch figure. The bottom figure, which is a crucial figure because it bears the weight of the totem pole, is a killer whale, to acknowledge that the totem pole will be on Kitsumkalum killer whale clan territory. Many other figures will adorn the totem pole when it is ready.

Originally the totem pole was meant to be completed in time for a June 5 raising ceremony, but the ceremony was postponed until September because of the pandemic. That was fortunate, Dangeli said, because it allowed the artistic team to slow down their timeline and work with extra care.

“Because of the energy and the subject matter, it’s really important that we get it done right,” he said. “My sons, before we even touched it in the raw log form, I took them out on the Skeena River, and we did ritual bathing.”

“When it was just still a log but shaped out to be a pole … We had the kids come down and sweep it with cedar boughs, and again, water from the Skeena, just to bless it and we had elders and chiefs and matriarchs come down to just get it in a good way.”

The raising ceremony will take place Sept. 4 and Sept. 5 in what Dangeli called a “virtual potlatch” to accommodate pandemic precaution measures.

The totem pole will be raised on Sept. 4, and the following day dancers, chiefs and matriarchs will breath life into the totem pole.

Only a small group of people will be physically present at any given time, but the event will be live-streamed by CFNR so anyone can participate from home.

The memorial totem pole project has received plenty of funding and other support, Roberts said.

She is grateful to co-organizers Marc Snelling and Wanda Good, as well as Highway of Tears families, friends and walkers, the Indian Residential School Survivors Society (where she also works), Kitsumkalum chiefs and matriarchs, Women and Gender Equality Canada, and B.C.’s ministry of transportation.

“We’ve just had some incredible people coming along the line and saying, ‘What can we do? How can we help you paddle, make this journey in this canoe?’” Roberts said.



jake.wray@terracestandard.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A police cruiser is blocking the right lane eastbound on 56th Avenue in Langley at 272nd Street on the morning of Oct. 27, 2020. (Langley Township)
Aaliyah Rosa. File photo
Crown says murder of seven-year-old in Langley was planned, deliberate

The trial of KerryAnn Lewis began Monday in New Westminster

Share your opinion with editor@langleyadvancetimes.com
LETTER: Langley Township council daytime meeting prevents resident involvement

A newcomer to the community is concerned about working people not being able to local politics

A veteran posed for a picture by the Langley City cenotaph at the 2019 Remembrance Day service. This year, because of the pandemic, organizers are moving the event online, with a few extras. (Langley Advance Times file)
Online Remembrance Day in Langley City will have extras for viewers

Video visits with Fraser Blues flight team, as well as veterans, are planned

On Thursday, Oct. 22, the day before Aldergrove’s Madison Lewis turns one, family and friend celebrated by attending a blood donor drive in her honour. (Courtesy Lewis Family)
Blood drive held in honour of one year old’s birthday

Aldergrove family organized clinic to give back after Madison Lewis underwent open heart surgery

FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters COVID-19 records with 817 weekend cases; masks now expected indoors

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

Commissioner Austin Cullen listens to introductions before opening statements at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, in Vancouver, on February 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. money laundering inquiry hears of $800,000 and more in bags, luggage, backpacks

The lottery corporation has said it consistently reported suspicious transactions to Fintrac

Some of the characters in the League of Legends video game. (Photo: na.leagueoflegends.com)
E-sports trial at B.C. high schools to start with ‘League of Legends’ team game

For fall launch, Vancouver’s GameSeta company partners with BC School Sports

Graphic on promo material for Best Buy Canada’s Tech Wonderland event.
Drive-through ‘Tech Wonderland’ coming to PNE site a few weeks before Christmas

Best Buy Canada-backed ‘holiday’ event to raise money for charity

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. (B.C. government photo)
Unnamed school in Fraser Health region closed due to COVID-19

Closure announced by Dr. Bonnie Henry during daily briefing

RCMP have released more details regarding what led up to an arrest caught on video in Williams Lake Sunday, Oct. 26. (Facebook video screenshot)
Review launched after ‘high-risk, multi-jurisdictional’ chase, arrest in Williams Lake

RCMP launching a full review and code of conduct investigation

Most Read