A totem erected on the Coast Mountain College Terrace campus, in front of the new student housing building, Wii Gyemsiga Siwilaawksat, on August 31. (Michael Bramadat-Willcock/Terrace Standard)
The totem pole stands on the Tsimshian territory of the Kitsumkalum Laxghibuu clan.  (Michael Bramadat-Willcock/Terrace Standard).The totem pole stands on the Tsimshian territory of the Kitsumkalum Laxghibuu clan. (Michael Bramadat-Willcock/Terrace Standard).
Sculptors consecrate the grounds where the totem now stands with a ceremonial dance.  (Michael Bramadat-Willcock/Terrace Standard).Sculptors consecrate the grounds where the totem now stands with a ceremonial dance. (Michael Bramadat-Willcock/Terrace Standard).
The new student housing and totem pole are part of a legacy that began with the founding of the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art in 2006. (Michael Bramadat-Willcock/Terrace Standard)The new student housing and totem pole are part of a legacy that began with the founding of the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art in 2006. (Michael Bramadat-Willcock/Terrace Standard)

Community members and college staff gathered to raise a totem pole outside the new student accommodation building, Wii Gyemsiga Siwilaawksat, meaning where learners are satisfied, on the Coast Mountain College Terrace campus, August 31.

The gathered crowd cheered as the totem pole was slowly lifted into place in front of the building. The design honors the Tsimshian territory of the Kitsumkalum Laxghibuu clan where it is located, and features a wolf and a bear. A matriarch figure is placed between the wolf’s ears and at the base of the pole is a male figure holding a copper shield.

“What’s really important is that we’ve found the next generation of carvers to carry on,” said Dempsey Bob, a Tahltan and Tlingit master carver and senior adviser to the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art, putting the event in context.

“It’s really important because culture is who we are. What my grandmother said was culture, it’s in our blankets, it’s in our drums, it’s in our bracelets, it’s in our masks, it’s in our totem poles.

“When we show our art, we show the face of our family. The face of our clan… Our ancestors left us a great, great art and a great culture and that is what is important today, is that we are still here. We always do.

The new student housing and totem pole are part of a legacy that began with the founding of the Freda Diesing School in 2006 by Freda Diesing Haida Carving student Bob and his nephews, Ken McNeil and Stan Bevan.

Bevan, a Tsimshian, Tahltan and Tlingit master carver, designed the pole and worked with his team of former students, Brian McKee (Tsimshian), James Lewis (Tsimshian and Tahltan) and Kobe Antoine (Nedut’en), for the create.

“It is a good feeling for us as instructors and teachers of the art to see the progress in the number (students) who went to school and the number who succeed in the art today “, Bevan said. “Sharing our art is an education.”

In addition to the totem outside the building, Bevan pointed to more than 70 artworks placed throughout the new building, noting that art was also created for the recently renovated library.

“I can’t say enough about the alumni we have, there is so much talent and dedication. It’s amazing,” said McNeil, who is a Tahltan, Tlingit and Nisga’a master carver and instructor at the Freda Diesing School.

“The works of art that are put up here are second to none.”

In 2018, the Coast Mountain College First Nations Council requested that new student housing reflect the culture, language, ceremonies and land-related practices of the region. This vision became reality when the building opened in 2021.

Bruce Denis, who worked as a project manager for the building, said it was clear from their first meeting that the First Nations wanted the building to feel like home for the students.

“The path from that day forward, through planning, design and construction, has been paved with learning, empathy, open hearts and minds,” said Denis, adding that the project was Indigenous-led. .

“The spaces within this building support Indigenous students, the design is a modern expression of Indigenous themes, the signage is in the Indigenous language, and the walls are adorned with crests and stories from Indigenous artists.

“It’s a house built with a purpose.”

Nicole Halbauer, who is chair of the Coast Mountain College board of trustees and who also goes by her Tsimshian name, X’staam Hana’ax, spoke about the importance of decolonizing space at the university.

“Here we celebrate today, claim this space and celebrate what it is to be Tsimshian in our territory.

Coast Mountain College President Laurie Waye said the raising of the totem pole symbolizes a strengthening of the college’s ties with Indigenous communities in northwestern British Columbia.

“In fact, I’ve been here long enough to remember the original design of this building and it wasn’t like that… It shows what we can do by listening and sharing ideas and just trying to do better all the time. We will do better.

The raising of the pole was followed by dancing and drumming performances and later a traditional feast including smoked salmon, fried bread and seasonal fruit prepared by culinary students as part of their experiential learning .

“We are raising the pride of our people and setting it on this land, where before there were totems of our ancestors. Pole raising day is always a special day. It’s a beautiful day,” Bob Dempsey said.

“What we have done in this school is historic.”

Arts and cultureFirst NationsIndigenous reconciliation