Nathan Wilson, a 2012 graduate from NWCC’s Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art, was at the center of a totem pole raising ceremony in Kitimat on November 20.
Hundreds of community members joined Mount Elizabeth Middle Secondary School (MEMSS) to witness the raising of a pole created by Wilson. People from the Beaver, Eagle, Raven and Blackfish Haisla Clans, including over 30 chiefs, were present.
Wilson is a member of the Blackfish Clan and moved to Kitamaat Village as a young adult. He considers the community his second home, as many generations of his relatives have lived there until today.
“The school wanted the totem pole to represent unity and community,” Wilson explained. “It was named PA LA GU WALA, which means ‘working together’ in Haisla.”
Wilson carved the pole under a sheltered area behind MEMSS. Students visited him, offering encouragement and learning about carving and their culture.
Six students in particular spent time with Wilson every day. He showed them basic carving skills and they helped carve parts requiring less detail. Wilson selected these students and the school’s maintenance worker to help carry the pole during the raising ceremony.
“When I started carving in 2009, I realized that I wanted to help my community through art,” said Wilson. “It was really awesome to see all these kids get interested about carving and having them around was a form of support.”
The MEMSS totem pole project took many years of planning.
“This has been a very important shared journey,” said Katherine Johnsen, Chair of the Totem Pole Committee at MEMSS. “It exemplifies building positive connections and new relationships within our school and communities through sharing this celebration of learning and cultural awareness.”
Johnsen explained that the pole represents the development of an increased sense of identity and belonging within the learning community. This is a result of First Nations students seeing their culture and traditions reflected in the school environment.
“It’s great to see that Nathan is making artwork for his people,” said Stan Bevan, Instructor at the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art. “Through this totem carving project he was able to help educate Kitimat students about the Haisla culture. It’s very encouraging that the community has widely supported him.”
Wilson has been working as full-time artist since graduating from the Freda Diesing School and said he is focusing on maintaining a high standard of quality to his art, as he was taught.
“Studying at the Freda Diesing School really helped me develop my skills as an artist,” said Wilson. “Before this formal learning, I had a good idea on how to carve in the Northwest Coast Art style, but watching my teachers Dempsey Bob, Stan Bevan, Ken McNeil and Dean Heron carve is how I really learned the fundamentals.”
Photo credit: Dean Heron