Totems raised at Earl Marriott

The first of Leonard Wells
The first of Leonard Wells' Cen'Alien project totems is raised at Earl Marriott Secondary on Tuesday, with the help of school staff and volunteers.
— image credit: Alex Browne photo

The long-awaited Cen’Alien welcome posts – created by Semiahmoo First Nation master carver Leonard Wells – were installed at Earl Marriott Secondary Tuesday evening in a ceremony that included song, humour, an RCMP honour guard and a traditional feast.

Two totems – a Cen’Alien, or captain of reefnet canoes for Semiahmoo fishermen, in keeping with the school’s ‘mariner’ theme, and a female counterpart, symbolizing the honoured role of womanhood in Semiahmoo culture – now stand in the main entrance hall.

Wells – along with 100 others – watched  as school staff and volunteers struggled to raise the heavy cedar posts, carved in the simple, sparsely painted style that distinguishes Coast Salish work, into position.

“I’m very happy with how this worked out,” he said, as volunteers manhandled a pole into position. “Although this is a little scary!”

“My hands go up to my cousin Leonard for the wonderful work he has done,” SFN Chief Willard Cook said prior to the installation.

The privately funded project, a partnership between Semiahmoo First Nation, Earl Marriott Secondary and Surrey School District, has been ongoing since last spring when Wells first selected a cedar log suitable for splitting and carving near Squamish.

But as many speakers – including master of ceremonies Harley Chappell (Wells' cousin), SFN councillor Joanne Charles, Earl Marriott teacher and aboriginal advocate Michael McKay-Dunn, White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin and White Rock- South Surrey MLA Gordon Hogg – mentioned, the project goes back more than 20 years to the inspiration of late Grand Chief Bernard Charles, and his belief in education as the route to reconciliation.

Chappell said the event was in keeping with the SFN's determination in the 'Year of Reconciliation' to "share our culture with our neighbours, those who take care of our children and educate our children" in a spirit of "respect, connection and commitment."


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