I happened to be passing as the ‘Residential School Totem,’ carved by artist Charles Joseph from Kwakwaka’wakw Nation, BC, was being raised outside the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
Of course I had to stop and watch even though it was cold and raining. There were some exciting moments – lifting the totem off the truck bed, manipulating it around a lamppost very near the totem’s designated spot, raising it to vertical – but often more than an hour would go by without anything visible happening although the crew was clearly very busy. It took a day’s work to get the totem in place. (The sunny picture further down was taken the next day!)
The totem, carved by Charles Joseph on Vancouver Island from a single red cedar, will stand outside the MMBA until October as part of the Montreal 375th celebrations.
While it’s ludicrous to think Montreal’s 375th ‘birthday’ has any meaning for indigenous peoples who of course were here long before, Joseph wanted to make sure the story was part of the celebrations.
For me, Montreal’s birthday is Montreal’s birthday, it’s not ours. But if you’re going to celebrate it, I want our story to be a part of that,” Joseph said. “I want people to know what we went through, but also that we’re alive and we’re still fighting. Montreal Gazette
Unlike the traditional poles Joseph has carved, the Residential School Totem Pole adapts Kwakwaka’wakw iconography, as relayed to him by his great-grandfather, to tell a tragic story that shaped Joseph personally. The matriarchal Wild Woman and the bear are present as protective figures in the lives of the 150,000 children committed to the residential schools. The killer whale appears as a symbol of dispersed children and their often transitory lives after leaving the schools. Globe and Mail
The totem is powerful and beautiful. It’s also a reminder of a shameful period in Canada’s history that continues to reverberate. Thousands of people live every day with the on-going impact of the residential schools, with the traumas, sadness and violence and prejudice.
This is the original entrance to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, built in 1912.
In the top photo you can see the bare bones of Dale Chihuly’s “Sun.” Here it’s fully installed.
To enjoy doors from around the world, visit Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors.