Canada Diary – Part 4

Published 21st June 2010 by lucy moore

A day off! The messiest I got was talking about strategy over coffee with Elizabeth in Vancouver’s market on an island… can’t remember the name… so many islands, creeks and inlets. A while to grab some presents for folks back home and a drive round Stanley Park (where there are no bears – must be the one place in Vancouver without anything savage hiding behind trees).
We saw totem poles – real totem poles! They are imposing seen close up, and in a native village, almost every home would have had one. They are a great way of affirming identity, history, links with the past, the story of who I am within my community.
I didn’t even know what ‘totem’ meant – I assumed it meant ‘symbol’, but it’s from a word which means ‘his kinship group’. Most are to do with family, burial rites or legend, but some are to do with naming and shaming, for instance if someone has left a debt unpaid. I wonder what a Christian totem pole would look like: how would we show our kinship group, our story, our heritage, our shame and how we see ourselves here and now: what symbols would we include?
They’re often left to rot and don’t last more than 100 years or so, returning to the earth from which they came. Hardly throw-away but certainly not arrogantly assuming they have the right to exist for time immemorial.
Personally, I rather like the Thunderbird – a bird which makes thunder by dropping an evil whale in the ocean to stop it marauding. Splendid stuff! By the way, a totem pole was put up with a potlatch ceremony: have a look on the Internet to see what this entailed – it’s a really interesting concept.

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