Survivors Totem Pole
Dear People of this Territory, Respected Elders, Friends in the Downtown Eastside Community & Beyond
We humbly ask for your support to raise a Survivors Totem Pole in the Downtown Eastside (DTES), Unceded Coast Salish Territory in September 2014. We do this honouring the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh Nations on whose territory our community lies. With your help a Totem Pole will be raised as a lasting community art and action project; symbolizing resistance, persistence & inclusion of the DTES community and residents.
Master carver Skundaal (Bernie Williams), from the Haida and Coast Salish Nations, will create our totem pole. She is a long-time Downtown Eastside resident, an activist, and the only female apprentice of the late master Haida carver, Bill Reid. Her assistants will be local community members who have agreed to sobriety around the carving periods in order to maintain the purity of the totem pole.
Our journey to raise this pole includes building stronger connections between Coast Salish Nations, Urban Aboriginal people, and other communities impacted by racism and other forms of exclusion, such as Japanese and Chinese Canadians with deep roots in the Downtown Eastside. Human Rights Activist Artists and children from these communities will be invited to paint the pole after it is carved.
Please help us spread the word about our Totem Pole. We are raising money through crowdfunding on Kickstarter. This is an all or nothing format, we are half way to our target and the deadline is August 3rd! www.kickstarter.com/projects/695807368/survivors-totem-pole
Haw’aa, Chi migwetch, ありがとう, M’goi sai, Snachailya, Merci beaucoup, Danke, Gracias.
Thank you all,
from Skundaal and Apprentices, and the Sacred Circle Board: Chief Bill Williams, Elder Woody Morrison, Elder Wilfred Price, Herb Varley, Tomiye Ishida, Sid Tan, and Wendy Pedersen.
Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories
Sacred Circle Society
Open house at 33 West Cordova Street
June 28, 2014
by Tomiye Ishida
I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to Coast Salish peoples, Squamish, Tsleil Watuth and Musqueam, on whose territories we are gathered . . . And to chief Bill Williams, our elders, Skundaal and Noel for welcoming us here today.
Thank you to all for joining us today.
My name is Tomiye Ishida, and I am one of the board members for the Sacred Circle Society. Watashi wa sansei no nikkei jin desu. I am the third generation of my family to live here on Coast Salish territories. My family was among the 23,000 people of Japanese descent who were rounded up, held at Hastings Park in the cattle stalls, and then shipped off to internment in 1942, by the white, colonial government. This was called for by the Province; seconded by the City of Vancouver; and put into action by the Government of Canada.
They were only allowed to bring what they could carry, and they were told that their property and belongings would be kept until they returned. Instead, it was sold at auction to pay the costs of their own internment. Now, my family didn’t lose any property. My grandfather came here around 1916 and my grandmother, a “picture bride,” followed shortly after. My grandfather repaired fishing nets, and my grandmother worked alongside native women in the canneries to help feed the six kids they already had. Two more were born in internment. My mother sometimes says that the family was so poor, that internment was a step up for them. They were moved into filthy, infested, abandoned buildings, in interior ghost towns, with no heat or electricity. Families were separated and several families crowded into each space. A step up?
We can not quantify these losses: of dignity; of the sense of being valued, of a sense of pride in who you are; of having a right to be here. I believe these losses to be greater than the loss of property.
I remember the past so that i can prevent it from happening again and again.
Let’s talk about displacement:
Long before the Japanese created a vibrant community in the area of Powell Street and Oppenheimer Park, the Coast Salish peoples (from what i have been told), knew the area as “the place where maples grow.” The First Peoples had been here for thousands of years. They were pushed out, displaced by the settlers who came and developed the land to meet their own needs. But, what prompted colonizers to leave their lands and colonize other lands? It was a desire to accumulate more wealth. And they did so by extracting resources, in this case, by cutting down the magnificent forests, setting up lumber mills and shipyards and railroads to move these “beings”, now considered commodities, to markets…. For sale. This has evolved into today’s global economy of capitalistic societies.
It’s been like this for so long we can barely remember what it was like before this. Collectively, we almost forgot the time when people were respected for their character and their contributions to the community, more than what they had in their bank accounts, garages and houses; when we sought out and valued, the counsel of our elders; when we lived in self-sustaining communities; and walked gently upon the earth because we knew our lives depended on it.
The displacement of the Japanese Canadians was not about the security of the coast. An extensive investigation by the RCMP advised the government that the Japanese Canadians were no threat to security.
Displacement continued when the Afro Canadian community was forced out to make way for the Georgia Viaduct; and today, we are seeing a graduated displacement of another marginalized community, the vibrant, passionate, low income community of the DTES. Corporate developers are evacuating through eviction, so they can repurpose buildings to make more profit.
The systems that are meant to be protective have either been dismantled or co-opted by corporate agendas.
The time has come.
The time is now.
Yes, this is going to be a beautiful work of public art; one that will celebrate the resilience of all who have struggled and survived; it’s about diverse communities and cultures working together. But, more than that, it’s a call for consciousness; a call for transformation; it’s a call to act, to reclaim space, to re-indigenize.
We are launching a kickstarter campaign to gather enough funds to raise the survivors pole and to have the biggest gathering of conscious people you’ve ever seen! We hope to raise the pole in late september, and we want you all to be a part of it. Help us to make this happen, whether it is by donating to the kickstarter campaign at www.Kickstarter.Com / survivors pole project, or by bringing your character, enthusiasm, questions or support. Every person, simply by your presence, contributes.
Skundaal has created some beautiful gifts for the people who donate via kickstarter. Check out the kickstarter website and look for the Survivors Pole.