Canada School takes down 44-year-old totem pole after learning it was built without Indigenous input

07:03  04 october  2017
07:03  04 october  2017 Source:   National Post

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An Ontario elementary school removed a decades- old totem pole from outside its front entrance on Friday, after discovering that it was built without Indigenous input . Grade 6 students at Summitview Public School in Stouffville, Ont., about 50 kilometres north of Toronto, carved the totem pole in 1973.

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totempole: A Google Streetview image, taken last year, of Summitview Public School in Stouffville, Ont. The school's totem pole, removed on Friday, is visible in front of the main steps. © Google A Google Streetview image, taken last year, of Summitview Public School in Stouffville, Ont. The school's totem pole, removed on Friday, is visible in front of the main steps.

An Ontario elementary school removed a decades-old totem pole from outside its front entrance on Friday, after discovering that it was built without Indigenous input.

Grade 6 students at Summitview Public School in Stouffville, Ont., about 50 kilometres north of Toronto, carved the totem pole in 1973. Former teacher Bernadine Mumford, who started the project, told the Stouffville Sun-Tribune it was a part of Canadian history exercise that focused on the “great harm” done to Indigenous peoples.

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“It bothered me that there was an implication it was racist,” she told the paper.

After “community-based concerns” emerged about the structure, the York Region District School Board decided it amounted to cultural appropriation. “While initially constructed with positive intentions,” the board said in a letter to parents last week, “our understanding of how cultural appropriation affects our learning environments has developed significantly.”

“The totem pole was created without consultation or involvement of members of Indigenous Nations, including members of the Indigenous Nations of the West Coast for which the totem pole is unique.”

In deciding what to do, the board consulted with representatives from the Chippewas of Georgina Island, a local First Nation, who agreed the totem pole had to come down. Band councillor Lauri Hoeg said she told board officials that since the structure was getting old and rickety, and had evidently offended a parent, it was best to just get rid of it.

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“At that time, there was less awareness to what appropriation was,” Hoeg said. “The First Nation felt it was probably not done with any ill-intent. … That’s why we’re not jumping up and down with our arms in the air.

“Everybody’s just trying to do the right thing here.”

The board disposed of the totem pole Friday after school ended — a move it hoped would give “a renewed beginning for our current students and staff to learn about and from members of our Indigenous Nations,” according to the letter to parents.

School superintendent Drew McNaughton said Tuesday that the board is trying to adhere to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, specifically one focused on “building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy and mutual respect.”

McNaughton said reaction to the board’s decision has been mixed.

“Listen, I think we’ve engaged in some significant learning since the totem pole went up,” McNaughton said. “The one big thing for me is around the spaces that we’re creating in our schools.”

The board said the school is planning to work with the Chippewas of Georgina Island, to potentially come up with something to put in the totem pole’s place.

“We’re looking to engage in some learning, as a starting point,” McNaughton said.

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