Southern Chiefs’ Organization reveals totem pole in honour of residential school children

The Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) held a ceremony to raise its new totem pole at Assiniboine Park on Sunday.

Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said the Residential School Totem Pole, which came from British Columbia, has a place in Manitoba because of the significant impact residential schools had in the Prairie province. 

Designs in the totem pole such as one featuring a mother holding two children and symbolizing children from residential schools who never returned home, are important to acknowledge, Daniels said.

“I think that given the significance of the residential schools in particular here in Southern Manitoba, it was quite appropriate for us,” Daniels said.

The 21-metre-high totem pole will eventually be moved from Assiniboine Park to SCO’s new building. (Joanne Roberts/CBC)

Kwakiutl artist Charles Joseph, who created the totem pole, said in a press release it tells his own story of being taken away from his family and being forced to attend St. Matthew’s Indian Residential School in British Columbia. It features faces which represent members of Joseph’s family, as well as children who did not survive residential schools.

“I am particularly moved today, to have the opportunity to share [the totem pole] with my relatives in Manitou Api, the geographical centre of the land we all share. The centre is where you will find a heartbeat, and my hope is my work will help draw us all to those healing rhythms,” Joseph said.

Although totem poles are not traditional for Manitoba tribes, Daniels said it was important for SCO to acquire and display it as the subject of residential schools was deeply felt in Manitoba. 

The 21-metre-tall totem pole was gifted to SCO by Jim Balsillie, the former chair and co-CEO of Research in
Motion, who commissioned its creation.

Daniels said it will eventually be moved into Hudson’s Bay building downtown, after SCO completes its renovations.

“We’ve been doing the measurements and we’re quite confident there will be enough room within the atrium,” Daniels said.

The totem pole features sections that represent artist Charles Joseph’s personal story of being taken away from his family and being forced to attend a residential school. (Kevin Nepitabo/CBC)