The Salish Bear Totem pole heavily damaged by fire last year was returned to the Malahat Summit ahead of National Day of Truth and Reconciliation last week.
The totem pole was removed for restoration in July 2021 after it was lit on fire in an act of vandalism.
In addition to the blaze, the vandals wrote “one statue – one totem” which is be believed to be in retaliation for the removal of a statue depicting British explorer James Cook that was torn down by protestors in Victoria.
“The quick thinking of the passing motorist likely saved not only the totem pole, but also a forest fire,” said Commander Sgt Tim Desaulniers at the time of the fire.
“This was a very dangerous act that could have had far reaching consequences. We will be working with partners along the Malahat for video and dashcam footage in an effort to identify suspect(s).”
On Thursday, September 29th, First Nations officials and other dignitaries held a private ceremony to unveil the refurbished totem pole at the site where it had been since 1966.
The totem pole was carved by Stan Modeste who created it to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the joining of the Colony of Vancouver Island with the Colony of British Columbia.
Doug August was tasked with refurbishing the pole after it went through a cleansing ceremony.
“Historic injustices and ongoing racist attacks weigh heavily on our community,” Lydia Hwitsum, Chief of Cowichan Tribes, said in a news release.
“Quw’utsun people are taught by our Elders to help one another and work together for the good of all. It has been greatly appreciated to see and experience the support of the larger community for the repair and reinstallation of (the) Salish Bear Totem.”
The cost of the totem’s refurbishment was covered by the Ministry of Transportation, according to the city of Duncan. The ministry had previously paid for the totem to be restored in 2015 after 50 years of general wear and tear.
The family and Cowichan Tribes commended the City of Duncan for its partnership and support in the pole’s restoration and return.
“Today’s ceremony was healing for our family members after last year’s hateful act directed at the iconic totem carved by our father, the late Stan Modeste. He used his talents to share with the world Quw’utsun culture and teachings around the sacredness of nature. We are pleased to see the Salish Bear restored to its intended beauty,” the Modeste family said in a statement.