A totem pole from Tl’etinqox originally destined for raising in Boitanio Park will no longer be going there because of failed discussions with the Williams Lake Indian Band, said Tl’etinqox Chief Joe Alphonse.
“Gifting this totem pole was never meant to be about boundary issues, nor be a statement along territorial lines,” Alphonse said Monday. “We are disappointed that the Williams Lake Indian Band couldn’t support this gift.”
Alphonse said the purpose of the totem was to strengthen relationships between the City of Williams Lake and his community.
“Having our art and culture present throughout the city is a proactive approach that could inspire First Nations youth and instill a further sense of pride in who we are,” he said.
Traditionally there have always been carvers in the nation and some of them carved poles that were six to 10 feet with maybe one item on it and others carved smaller items, he added.
“If you go to Vancouver or any major city there is First Nations art everywhere. In the Interior it is almost non-existent.”
Alphonse said Tl’etinqox has had a long-standing gang issue and people always ask what his community is doing about it. “We‘ve taken a different approach than most. We want to focus on kids who are doing well and support them. If the totem pole is there in Williams Lake kids can look up and be inspired that our culture is on display.”
He also said there are some of his community members who struggle with addictions that go to Boitanio Park regularly and the totem pole might be good for them to see there as well.
“It was in the spirit of reconciliation and moving toward hopes of a better relationship all the way around that we wanted to give the totem pole to the City of Williams Lake,” Alphonse added. “We are here now, we have always been here and will always be here in the future.”
Alphonse said he feels like he has failed, although he went to meetings with the WLIB and the Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw (NStQ), and requested to meet with the elders.
“The message to us was very clear that they don’t support the project and stressed it was Tl’etinqox staking their territory, but I told them we don’t deal with boundary issues from individual communities. We deal with those issues at the nation level.”
Originally the totem pole was to be installed in the park when the 40th Annual Elders Gathering was held in Williams Lake in July 2016.
The original Nuxalk carver of the totem pole was not able to complete the pole in time, however, the pole was unveiled during the elders gathering and blessed by the elders as part of the unveiling ceremony.
It was completed in the fall of 2017.
After being re-elected last week, Alphonse met with the 12 band councillors at Tl’etinqox about the totem pole.
“They chose in the spirit of the gift, if the WLIB is not on board, then it goes against the whole intent. We will come up with another purpose for it as we don’t want to continue to push the issue.”
Williams Lake Indian Band Chief Willie Sellars, meanwhile, said the WLIB will be engaging with its council and preparing a response to the TNG’s statement.