Sumas First Nation carvers have nearly completed two 18-foot hand-carved house posts to be unveiled at Fraser River Heritage Park, May 26.
The carvings are the product of a $200,000 grant from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to create a positive, commemorative monument as a celebration of reconciliation between residential school survivors and the Catholic Church.
The Sumas band in Abbotsford, Leq’a:mel band in Mission, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, and North Fraser Community Church applied jointly for the funds to begin a healing process from the legacy of the St. Mary’s residential school that existed in Fraser River Heritage Park.
“Finishing will be a sad day because we’re here six days a week, eight to 10 hours a day for the past three months,” said Raphael Silver, who carved the house posts with his father, Ray.
Because of the sheer amount of work involved, the Silvers solicited Mike Epp’s help, a professional native carver from Matlakatla near Prince Rupert who grew up in Matsqui. A trio of Sumas apprentices will help also.
“I didn’t really want them to think of it as a job, I wanted them to think of it as a learning experience,” said Silver, 30, who has been carving since he was five and is a former artist-in-residence for the Abbotsford School District.
He crafted the original design for the house posts, but received input from the other carvers.
The carvings incorporate healing symbols, with two salamanders, a dancer with a mask, and two salmon, all important to Sto:lo mythology, said Silver.
Each post represents the supporting poles that would go in the sides of a traditional longhouse, while a 20-foot-long flat section will connect the two to represent the rafters.
“It’s kind of fitting that we carved these in our long house,” he said.
The tree they used is a massive 450-year-old red cedar from Powell River.
Installing the finished work isn’t easy. The engineering will be $12,000, and raising the poles will cost another $6,000. He is scrambling now to ensure the foundations will be ready to install the poles in time.
But more than showcasing the artwork, it is the symbolic reconciliation between two groups with a wounded history that is important, he said.
The ceremony happens at noon.