Indigenous house posts are being placed at the Abbotsford school district office this summer, as the district continues its path along Truth and Reconciliation.
The posts were passed on from the carvers to the district in a house post honouring ceremony in June at the Sema:th First Nation longhouse.
School trustees, district staff, students and various community members were invited to witness the honouring, a traditional and meaningful ceremony in Sto:lo culture.
“Our school district has been on a journey of learning more about Indigenous culture and embracing our commitment to Truth and Reconciliation,” said Dr. Stan Petersen, chair of the Abbotsford board of education.
“To visually profile this work and bring forward further Indigenous representation in our buildings, we commissioned these house posts to be carved and installed in the school board office this year. We’re so pleased to finally see them come to life, celebrate the beautiful artwork of these pieces and honour their tradition.”
The house posts were installed over the summer. The female and male posts stand next to each other in the boardroom, on either side of the Abbotsford school district logo. The third larger house post will be located in the front lobby to greet people as they enter the building.
The ceremony in June opened with a welcome song by Chris Silver, councillor from Sema:th First Nation, and Fraser Smith, a Grade 11 student from Yale secondary.
The artist, as well as the speaker of the ceremony, Perry Smith, who currently serves as the director of curriculum for the Abbotsford school district, were blanketed and had their heads wrapped with a headband. This symbolizes having a good heart and good thoughts during the event.
Witnesses were then called to remember the event, and some were called to speak about the work taking place. Artists were then walked around the longhouse and directed to stand on cedar bows placed upon the ground to represent a place “where no one had stood before them.”
Raphael Silver, the Sema:th First Nation artist behind the carving of the house posts, spoke to the audience about the process of this project and his long connection to the Abbotsford school district.
“I’ve been involved with the school district from a very young age,” Silver said. “The first piece of art I created was for Mountain elementary, and I have painted several murals and multiple artist residencies with carving throughout the district ever since.
“When I was asked to do this, I did not hesitate. I appreciate what the district has done for Indigenous students. I’ve seen firsthand where the Indigenous education department started … and where it is today.”
The poles feature three carvings – a woman wearing a traditional embroidered dress, a man behind a shield, and a more prominent post featuring a female protecting the school district’s children.
The posts were inspired by the artist’s mother and father and Laura Smith, who served in the school district’s first leadership role for Indigenous education.
Strong women have helped pave the way for many Indigenous students, and the artwork further represents the faith Smith has had in Silver over the years. On the flagship piece, every etching within the wood meets together at some point and leads to the doorway at the bottom of the post.
“Education is the doorway to the future. It leads us on a positive path,” Silver said.
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