May 092017

Charles Joseph, The Residential School Pole, 2014-16
Collection: Jim Balsillie

On May 3, a 21-m. totem pole by Kwakwaka’wakw artist Charles Joseph was raised just outside the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Attending the ceremony were Mayor Denis Coderre and elders from nearby Mohawk communities.

At six, Joseph was taken from his family to attend residential school in Alert Bay. He described the making of the Residential School Pole as an opportunity to heal, to let go of the pain of that experience. At the bottom of the pole is the figure of a First Nations mother welcoming her children home.

The pole will be in Montreal for the next six months, part of the city’s open-air museum, A Walk of Peace, which celebrates Montreal’s 375th and Canada’s 150th anniversaries. Afterwards the pole will travel to a site near Toronto.

Dr. Michael Lickers, master of the raising ceremony, wisely stated: “Reconciliation is not just about saying, ‘I understand’. It means putting into action what we say we’re going to do.”

For photographs and more information on the symbolism of the pole, see

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