By contributor Dane Gibson
Following a history-making event last November honouring Coast Salish veterans from both sides of the border, VIU today raised a veterans’ prayer pole and warrior canoe in remembrance of Coast Salish veterans who served their countries.
The veteran’s prayer pole will have a permanent home at the south entrance of VIU’s Cowichan campus. The warrior canoe will be made available for other communities to use as an “ambassador of remembrance,” and will be travelling to another community in November to honour Aboriginal veterans on Remembrance Day.
“We have totem poles and other exquisite pieces of First Nations art on campus,” said VIU president Dr. Ralph Nilson. “This is the first that explicitly honours Coast Salish veterans who served in combat. First Nations cultures and peoples are at the centre of university life here at VIU. The prayer pole and warrior canoe will greet every visitor who comes to the Cowichan campus, providing an opportunity to teach our students about the important role that Coast Salish veterans played in protecting the freedoms we enjoy today.”
The prayer pole was carved by George Rice under the guidance of Harold Joe, a VIU Elder-in-Residence and internationally-renowned master carver. The warrior canoe was carved by Harold Joe, Roger George, Cory George, Walter Thomas, and George Rice.
“Most of the time our veterans are not really acknowledged,” said Joe. “Recognizing Coast Salish veterans for what they have done for us is important. It’s a great thing.”
It is estimated that more than seven thousand Aboriginal Canadians served in the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War. During the Second World War, First Nations soldiers participated in every major battle and campaign, including the Normandy invasion that marked the turning point of the war.
The project was made possible through the generous donation of timber by BC Parks and Khowutzun Forestry Services Ltd., and contributions from VIU. Financial support was also provided through Veterans Affairs Canada’s Community Engagement Partnership Fund.