The Snuxyaltwa (Snooks-yell-twa) totem pole was welcomed home on Family Day in Bella Coola with an elaborate ceremony filled with dance, songs and speeches inside the Acwsalcta School gym.
“It worked out beautifully,” said Hereditary Chief Deric Snow of the Nuxalk Nation about the ceremony. “Everything went smoothly. I cannot explain it all. There’s no word to describe my emotions.”
Snow said he’d asked his mom, Mercy Snow, to lead a procession around the pole as it was unveiled for the 300 people gathered there to see it.
“Holy man was that ever a powerful moment,” Snow said. “After we unveiled it I swear you could hear a pin drop. That went on for five to 10 minutes I think. People didn’t know how to react to it. That’s the feeling I got. I was crying of course.”
His mom started speaking Nuxalk to the pole and put her hand on it, followed by everyone else in the procession putting their hands on it too.
“I think she was saying a prayer over it,” he said.
Snow’s paternal great-grandfather carved the pole in the mid 1880s as an entrance pole to a longhouse.
Later the pole was used as a marker for a family grave before it was taken in 1913 to become part of the collection in the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria.
Since 2019, Snow had been appealing to have the pole returned to the Nuxalk Nation.
Snow said the totem pole is an important bridge of knowledge for his community to learn more about past Nuxalk traditions and teach them to the next generation.
To that end, the pole will remain in the Acwsalcta School hallway in front of the receptionist’s desk until May 2024.
“We are going to build a case to put around it - either the school or our family - and put a story board and maybe a picture of my great-grandfather if I can find one.”
He said his great-grandfather was also a canoe maker.
Grateful to the family members who prepared the food for the ceremony, Snow also thanked the junior girls and boys basketball teams for serving and helping out with the event.
He also thanked the nation for its “120 per cent of support,” specifically the administration.
“Wilma Mack helped out quite a bit with the funding for the trips to Victoria. The health department and the stewardship office put a lot of money forward to helping and thank you to the community for funding and helping us with the fundraisers.”
He noted his daughter Judy Windsor also played a big part in fundraising.
On Friday, Feb. 17, the pole arrived in Bella Coola on the back of a truck that was organized by the Royal B.C. Museum.
Snow said the truck’s drivers learned a lot in their travels about how many people wanted to be involved, how many people wanted to help the Nuxalk Nation and how much spirituality was involved from Victoria to Williams Lake to Bella Coola.
“They were blown away by that,” he said.
When the truck reached the bottom of the Bella Coola Hill on Thursday, Feb. 23, it was welcomed by about 50 to 60 vehicles.
“I told the Victoria guys this is nothing new to you guys, but this is new to have that many vehicles here,” Snow said.
The truck and convoy then did an impromptu parade through the valley, honking horns.
“We went downtown Bella Coola, then I took them around 4-Mile and then to the school. We had fun and oh man it was just an awesome time. No matter how tired you were you had to keep going by relying on your spirit, Snow said.
Carrying the pole into the gym for the ceremony required less muscle power than he anticipated, he added.
When asked if he carves, he chuckled and replied that he is not a gifted carver, but a good doodler.
With files from Canadian Press, Sage Birchwater and Ruth Lloyd