Meaningful Reconciliation

Our engagement process was designed to be somewhat analogous to the story of the raising of the Reconciliation Pole, installed here at UBC in April 2017.

The Reconciliation Pole took a team of experienced carvers to complete over a number of months, led by Haida artist James Hart, with a small amount of carving by some members of the university community as a way of sharing ownership of the pole’s message of reconciliation. The pole depicts First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples’ genocidal experience with this country’s residential school system and how, despite this past, Indigenous peoples are celebrating their culture and implementing their rights.

With the consent of Musqueam, the pole was raised through the efforts of hundreds of people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, young and old, who together pulled on a handful of ropes in the same direction. This image alone is a powerful symbol of unity and a demonstration of what can be achieved when we work towards a common set of goals. The implementation of this Plan, like the pole raising, will take a major collective effort, with all leadership, Faculties and units pulling in the same direction from their specific locations.

What story does reconciliation pole tell?

Haida poles are read from bottom to top.

  1. 1 Surrounding the base of the pole are salmon symbolizing life and its cycles.
  2. 2 Between the legs of Bear Mother is sGaaga (Shaman) who stands on top of the Salmon House and enacts a ritual to ensure their return.
  3. 3 Bear Mother holds her twin cubs, Raven looks out from between Bear Mother’s Ears.
  4. 4 A Canadian Indian Residential school house, a government-instituted system designed to assimilate and destroy all Indigenous cultures across Canada.
  5. 5 The children holding and supporting one another are wearing their school uniforms and numbers by which each child was identified. Their feet are not depicted as they were not grounded during those times.
  6. 6 Four Spirit Figures: Killer whale (water), Bear (land), Eagle (air), and Thunderbird (the supernatural). They symbolize the ancestries, environment, worldly realms and the cultures that each child came from.
  7. 7 The mother, father and their children symbolize the family unit and are dressed in traditional high-ranking attire symbolizing revitalization and strength of today.
  8. 8 Above the family is the canoe and longboat shown travelling forward—side by side. The canoe represents the First Nations and governances across Canada. The longboat represents Canada’s governances and Canadian people. This symbolism respectfully honours differences, but most importantly displays us travelling forward together side by side.
  9. 9 Four Coppers, coloured to represent the peoples of the world, symbolize and celebrate cultural diversity.
  10. 10 Eagle represents power, togetherness, determination and speaks to a sustainable direction forward.

The 68,000+ copper nails covering areas of the pole are in remembrance of the many children who died at Canada’s Indian Residential Schools — each nail commemorates one child.