It may just be a fallen red cedar log now, but soon it will be brought back to life as so much more.
The red cedar log, estimated to be more than 200 years old, was sourced from the Squamish Valley forest and donated by Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) Nation to be carved as the Welcome Figure for Ecole Argyle Secondary in North Vancouver.
With open arms, the approximately 5.5-metre cedar sculpture will greet students, teachers, and visitors into the new school, at 1131 Frederick Rd. in Lynn Valley, inside the building at the front entrance as an acknowledgement that the school sits on the unceded territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and Səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.
But more work needs to be done before it reaches that stage.
Brad Baker, North Vancouver School District principal and administrator of Indigenous education, said that so far the cedar log had been brushed with boughs to cleanse it for its new role at the school by Coast Salish artist Jody Broomfield.
The Squamish Nation carver will be working off-site on the project at the Mosquito Creek Marina for the next couple of months or so.
Broomfield, whose journey as an artist began in 1999, is in the very early stages of his artistic process.
“I got the log this week, and I’ve stripped the bark off of it in order to get a clear look at what the wood looks like,” he said. “In this case, it exposed some branches and some knots, that I’ll have to work around. I’ll also have to deal with a fall crack on the top portion of the log.
“I'll find out when I cut into the wood and the wood speaks to me as to how fast I'll be able to work on it.”
His vision for the Welcome Figure is to reflect the general area of the North Shore and the Sea to Sky.
“It will have an ocean, mountain, and sky design on the bottom and then there will be a figure on top of that,” he said.
Baker explained that Welcome Figures – which differ from totem poles in form and function – are used by Coast Salish peoples as markers to welcome visitors to their territories and were usually carved in a gesturing motion.
“Part of a Welcome Figure is to have open arms and welcome individuals to the school,” he said.
Broomfield added that they were also "a symbol of peace."
What a beauty!!! Cedar log for @argyleschool Welcome Figure has arrived. Looking forward to the work of @gotsalish Sinámkin coming to life. @44Annimal @m_pearmain @NVSD44 #NVSDIndigenous #goforwardwithcourage pic.twitter.com/F9Oc4va0aI— Brad Baker (@bradleyrbaker) March 15, 2021
Once Broomfield has partly carved the log, expected sometime this June, it will be transported to the school so he can work with students, staff, and parents to complete it.
“Part of the idea is for Jody to share local knowledge and share the story of the importance of the Welcome Figure to the local First Nations," Baker said.
“Being a part of the process of working on a log that's hundreds of years old and seeing that come back to life through a Welcome Figure, and hearing the stories of Indigenous peoples, is so important for students."
Broomfield, who has carved house posts in the past and a Welcome Figure for Simon Fraser University, said he was looking forward to working with students in a COVID-safe way at Argyle.
“I just hope to open their eyes and ears and their hearts regarding our culture and where we come from,” he said, adding that he was ever so grateful to be invited by the school and to step forward for the project. “It’s about sharing that knowledge with them and what I've learned over the years, and how I'm able to express it through art.”
He said students would help with the carving in the later stages of the process, including learning how to make some cuts here and there and helping to paint.
The school plans to raise the Welcome Figure in August and hold a traditional First Nations ceremony, unveiling and blessing in September after summer break.
The modern, energy-efficient school – which cost more than $61 million – opened to Argyle's 1,300 students in January.
Baker said Argyle had decided to wait until the construction phase of the school was complete to embark on the Welcome Figure project so students could be involved and so the entrance area was properly set up for the figure to be installed.
“For it [Welcome Figure] to really come back to life we wanted the students’ hands on it, and so that's why we're doing it now,” he said.
While many schools on the North Shore already have Welcome Figures, Baker said SD44 was in the process of working to ensure all schools in the school district had one.
“One reason why our school district is moving forward with Welcome Figures is to acknowledge that we are on the unceded territory of the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples and to acknowledge that we recognize that,” Baker said.
The next school on the list is Seycove Secondary in Deep Cove, which Baker said had initiated contact and started the planning process to work with Tseil-Waututh Nation on a Welcome Figure.
Broomfield has created around 10 public art pieces in North and West Vancouver which can be found on the North Shore Culture Compass.
Elisia Seeber is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.