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Why was this chopped up totem pole discarded in a North Vancouver park?

The mysterious discovery of an axed totem pole in Whey-ah-Wichen/Cates Park left one North Vancouver woman with questions

It’s not uncommon to find abandoned items on the trail. An escaped cereal bar wrapper. A discarded tool. A lost left glove, perhaps. An axed totem pole, however, comes in as quite the unlikely find.

Connie Flett was wandering the gravel paths of Whey-ah-Wichen/Cates Park when she stumbled across an old, weathered totem pole, split into segments. She was travelling with Chix With Stix, a walking group of women between the ages of 60 and 80 who spend most mornings trekking the seaside trails of North Vancouver.

“We were really surprised to see the partial remains of a freshly cut totem,” said Flett.

The pieces had been stumbled upon like segments of an oversized puzzle. The first was found in the bushes past a small car park neighbouring the boat launch parking lot, and the second was buried among the shrubbery just beyond it, explained Flett. The third was located just further down the trail, in a tangle of branches and leaves.

“You had to look very carefully to see the top section, which looked like three large branches of a tree,” she said.

Engraved with Indigenous markings, Flett presumed it belonged to one of the local First Nations, but was curious as to why it was left discarded in such a way in the woods.

“It would be interesting to know, because it’s such a shame to see something hacked up like that. It could have been taken down and left intact, as something for people to look at,” she said.

səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation) Chief Jen Thomas said the totem post was erected in Whey-ah-Wichen near the parking lot, and had been removed about a year ago “due to safety concerns.”

“It is not a Tsleil-Waututh Nation pole, but was erected by the District of North Vancouver in the 1970s,” she said. “With guidance from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s Cultural Team, the pole was removed, cut into more manageable sections, and then laid to rest in the woods.”

Thomas said the Nation is currently developing signage to display near the fallen pole.

The District of North Vancouver said the mysterious find was a totem once carved by a district parks staff member, installed in the park in 1974.

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

MKerrLazenby@nsnews.com
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