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Squamish Nation carver to gift totem pole to Lions Gate Hospital

Carver Darren Yelton will gift the female totem to honour those who have lost their lives to cancer
Darren Yelton has previously paid his respects to the nurses and doctors of Lion’s Gate Hospital, with drum, song and prayer. | Matt Blair / North Shore News

Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) carver Darren Yelton is commemorating those who have battled cancer within Lions Gate Hospital, with the instalment of a hand-carved memorial totem pole.

Yelton, whose mother had been an inpatient at the hospital before succumbing to colon cancer in January last year, said he hopes the totem will serve as a symbol of gratitude for the hospital’s doctors and nurses, and as a memorial for its past patients.

“After losing my mom to cancer I decided I wanted to donate a large totem pole to honour all of the cancer patients who have walked through that door, and have heard those dreaded words,” he said.

“I have lost my mom and many aunts and uncles to cancer, and most of my mom’s brothers and sisters have all passed away from cancer. So I thought to myself, I want to do this, to honour my mother and all the people who don’t get to walk back out of that hospital door.”

Towering 12 to 15 feet tall, the carving will welcome patients and their loved ones from the entrance of the building’s new acute care facility.

It will depict a Coast Salish woman wrapped in a blanket, adorned with symbols of a butterfly and a hummingbird. Below the blanket will lie two Coast Salish eyes, a representation of ancestors watching over those who enter.

The six-foot high base beneath the carving will remain untouched, Yelton said, leaving 10,000 or so spaces for memorial plaques – so others who have lost loved ones to the disease can pay their own respects.

The first plaque to be installed will be inscribed with Yelton’s mother’s name.

“When these people feel alone, and they need to visit that loved one, they can enjoy a beautiful totem pole and look at it, and then see their loved ones name on the base of that totem pole,” he said.

“It will just uplift them in a good way, and give positive energy to them.”

In the coming weeks, Yelton will travel to Squamish to hand select the log that will be donated by Squamish and District Forestry Association. The totem pole will be erected not long after, he said, with the carving itself only taking a matter of weeks.

Not the first time he has commemorated the work of Lions Gate doctors and nurses, in 2022 Yelton took to the pavement outside the hospital to show his support via drum, song and prayer.

The event, which took place shortly after his mother's death in January, saw over 50 people in attendance, with local politicians and some of the Squamish Nation community joining the singers, drummers and speakers in showing their appreciation.

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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