Teacher Preparation and Sensitivity
UCC Student Projects
Topic: Totem poles and First Nations art
Rationale: Students will further their understanding and appreciation for the beauty and complexity of First Nation’s art, specifically the totem pole.
Materials and Resources
Identify positive traits of group work activity
Intended Learning Outcomes
Planned Learning Activities
Resources Used and other Supplementary Material Available
Standing on the beach under grey sky, I watched with apprehension as dozens of strong arms heaved on two ropes to raise the tall totem pole, little by little, to a vertical position in front of the plank house. To prevent the sideways sway of the pole on its upward journey, two teams of people held the other ropes taut.
The crowd stood in anxious silence, watching-the hush a contrast to the drumming and speech making that had preceded the pole raising. As I moved up from the beach, closer to the plank house, one of the hauling ropes bit into the cedar shakes at the roof edge and jammed. Two men on the roof ripped away the offending shakes and freed the rope. I heard it creaking from the strain of pulling up the massive log until a final heave brought the pole upright against the house front. A sudden burst of cheering and furious drumming shattered the silent tension, expressing the jubilation of about a thousand residents and offshore visitors.
The two-day celebration that followed featured a lavish potlatch-with dancing, singing, drumming, speeches, feasting and gift giving-for all who had witnessed this very special event. I felt privileged to have been invited.
The year was 1978, the place was Skidegate on the Queen Charlotte Islands, and the carver of the pole was Bill Reid. It was the first pole to be raised in the village in more than a hundred years, and only the second on the islands in the last decade.
With the regeneration of native art and tradition spreading throughout the Northwest Coast since the late 1960’s, the proliferation of new totem poles has been remarkable.
Perhaps no other product of Northwest Coast creativity is as well know as the totem pole; it has become the very symbol of Northwest Coast Indian people and their art, provincially, nationally and around the world. Although the name “totem” for these carved monuments of cedar is actually a misnomer-a totem is a creature or object that a person holds in great respect and religious awe- many years of common usage and the want of a better work have made it acceptable. Similarly, the word “chief,” although an inexact translation, has been given validity through common usage, particularly by native people themselves.
The majority of totem poles on view today are not in context. Many have been placed along highways; at ferry terminals; in parks, gardens and shopping plazas; outside hotels, public buildings, tourist bureaus, schools and, of course, in museums. Visitors to the Northwest Coast from all parts of the world often stand in wonder before some of the largest wooden sculptures ever created, astounded by their height and girth. They are perplexed and intrigued by the bold, complex designs and the extraordinary creatures of strange proportions that emerge from the logs with such vitality; and they ask, “What are they and what do they mean?” Most poles are accompanied by the barest information or none at all. Questions about what kind of work, who the carver was, how long it took to carve, how old it is, how it was raised and what the figures represent are mainly left unanswered.
Summative Criteria: Student Self-assessment