One of the most distinctive parts of Reconciliation Pole are the copper nails. It has 68,000 of them pounded flat into the surface.
Most of the shiny copper nails are in a sculptural element on the pole meant to represent a residential school. On the base the nails form the shape of two skeletons so they will visible from the ground once the pole is raised.
“That symbolizes the stuff, the hidden stuff, buried bodies in the basement. We got survivors from the era — so we know it to be true,” Hart said.
“That’s the stuff we can’t hide. We have to face it.”
Reconciliation Pole will be raised Saturday, April 1 in a traditional Haida ceremony beginning at 1 p.m. The totem pole, made from an 800-year-old red cedar from Haida Gwaii, will be installed at Main Mall and Agronomy Road on the southern end of the Point Grey campus of the University of B.C.
The 16.7 m (55 ft) pole was commissioned by the Audain Foundation and UBC to represent both the legacy of residential schools and the reconciliation of indigenous and non-indigenous people across the country. Hart’s Haida name is 7idansuu (pronounced Edenshaw).
The copper nails have been hammered into the totem pole by residential school survivors, volunteers and schoolchildren.
On a sunny Thursday morning, Hart talked with Postmedia News about the figures on the pole as he carved off shavings of cedar from the lowest figure: a mother bear and her twin cubs, who represents the time before contact with Europeans when the Haida and other indigenous people spoke their languages and lived their cultures.
All that changed with colonization and the start of the residential school system in B.C., which began in 1890. Nationally, residential schools operated from the early 19th century; the last one closed in 1996.
Above the residential school on Reconciliation Pole are a group of children who represent residential school survivors from across Canada. They have all been carved by various indigenous artists in their own style: There is an Inuk child by Zacharias Kunuk, director of the film Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. An east coast child is by Shane Perley-Dutcher, a member of Maliseet of the Wabanaki Confederacy in New Brunswick. Another is by Susan Point, the Musqueam artist on whose unceded and traditional territory the totem pole is being raised. There are also children by Philip Grey, Ts’msyen (Tsimshian) and Mikisew Cree artists, as well as Haida artists Robert Davidson and Christian White.
One of the children will remain unfinished to represent all the indigenous children who were sent to school but never came home.
“I hope people get it,” Hart said. “We know about it. It’s about the rest of the country to understand this is what went on at the residential schools. It wasn’t pleasant at all.”
Hart was lucky. He never went to residential school, even though all his friends did.
At the top of the totem pole is an eagle poised to take off into the future. Just below are two boats.
“You see the boats there? The canoe and long boat represent us moving together as Canada — meaning reconciliation.”
But reconciliation, Hart said, doesn’t meant shoving the deaths and cultural genocide of residential schools under the carpet.
“It’s not going to ever go away,” he said.
“It’s about understanding and moving forward together. We want to be part of Canada. We have lots to offer. Every nation has been here for thousands of years. We’re part of the country. Really, we want to be part of Canada but not the destructive part.”
Other major works by Hart include The Dance Screen (The Scream Too) at the Audain Art Museum in Whistler, the Bill Reid Memorial Pole at the Bill Reid Museum, and a 10-metre pole at the Museum of Anthropology.
The pole installation is expected to take place between 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.