The global coronavirus pandemic has further delayed completion of the First Nations language revitalization pole under construction in Port Alberni.
The pole began as an 800-year-old tree transported from a forest near Bamfield to Port Alberni’s waterfront in March 2019. Master Nuu-chah-nulth carver Tim Paul and a team of Indigenous artists have worked on the project since then.
“I had a funder ready to finish it and then COVID hit,” said Scott Jeary of the non-profit First Nations Education Foundation (FNEF). The FNEF chose a language revitalization pole as its project to recognize the UN 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages. The Huu-ay-aht First Nations donated the tree, which had fallen down years ago. The pole was supposed to be finished and erected by November 2019, but has experienced a number of setbacks—many of them financial.
“Their revenue is pretty much hospitality generated,” Jeary said of the potential backer, who has since pulled out. Everybody’s gone through something (during the pandemic) but that was a smack in the head.”
With no tourism business and everything closed in March and April, funding from the potential source—who Jeary declined to name—dried up. The projected cost last year was $428,000, and $200,000 had been raised by November 2019.
Jeary is back to searching for funding so the language revitalization pole can be completed. It will still be raised in Port Alberni when it’s finished, he said. “We have a couple of different locations people have suggested to raise it. If we have the funds, we will happily do it.”
The original plan was to raise the pole at the University of Victoria, but heavy interest from people in the Alberni Valley convinced the FNEF to change the pole’s final resting place.
The 800-year-old, 60-foot-long and 73,000-pound red cedar tree has been made smaller and pieced together to form a pole with a flat back—a rarity, Jeary said. Paul’s design is called Our 10 Relatives and honours 10 important relatives among the Nuu-chah-nulth people: among them Sky Chief, sun, wind, Thunderbird, Mountain Chief, lakes, land and Sea Chief.
“It’s quite beautiful,” Jeary said.
Paul can sometimes be seen at the carving site behind the fence at the Maritime Discovery Centre’s Hutcheson Gallery. He does not have a set schedule.