CBC.ca reports that Vancouver’s Stanley Park is getting new aboriginal carvings. Coast Salish artist Susan Point has been commissioned to carve an archway near the site of several totem poles by carvers from the north coast of British Columbia. The existing totem poles are a favorite place for tourist pictures, but local First Nations groups have decried the lack of carving and art from people who actually live in the area and even claim Stanley Park as traditional land.
The quotation in the article from Vancouver’s Aboriginal social planner Kamala Todd is intriguing, if not somewhat odd:
Having actual Coast Salish pieces here will help people get a sense that this city is actual indigenous land, as I shop here and drive my car here I am actually on ancient land.
Likewise, Ian Campbell, a native man with Squamish and Musqueam (both Coast Salish) ancestry and identified as a chief, is quoted this way:
Visible presence is a simple way of just being effective. I mean, just to show the local and the visitor alike that we’re still here.
Both quotes imply, I think, that the presence of north coast poles does not give people a sense that the city of Vancouver is on native land. (The question of the land’s antiquity is another matter.) My experience suggests that most residents of Vancouver (let alone visitors) do not know much about the diversity of native cultures in British Columbia. My guess is that most could not distinguish a Coast Salish carving from a Tsimshian pole. Despite this, any totem pole or carving is emblematic of native heritage on the west coast of Canada.
While adding local carvings is great, the cynical among us should not expect that this will have a dramatic effect on how Vancouverites understand the history and diversity of native cultures in British Columbia.