The long-awaited totem pole set to be raised in Lake Cowichan’s new Ts’uubaa-asatx Square was the target of vandalism last week. Though Ts’uubaa-asatx operations manager Aaron Hamilton expressed confidence that the act of vandalism was an isolated incident, he said that the band will be taking the steps necessary to ensure it remains so.
Around 1 p.m. on Canada Day (July 1), designer and carver Ron Hamilton and carver Ray Sim returned to the gazebo at Ts’uubaa-asatx Square to continue work after lunch. The artists discovered that in the hour they were gone, eight pencil markings had appeared on the pole. While many of the markings were vulgar, the act of vandalism doesn’t seem to be racially-motivated.
“The markings were made in pencil, in eight distinct areas on the pole,” Aaron Hamilton said. “They weren’t derogatory, there was nothing racial, it was all childish stuff. Ron had to scrape off a layer from the pole; you can’t erase pencil from wood. It wasn’t enough to destroy the pole, but it was enough to distort it.”
Aaron Hamilton said that due to the content, he suspects the vandalism was committed by a group of kids.
Artist Ron Hamilton previously expressed his hope that allowing residents to take part in the rough carving of the pole for a donation, would generate a sense of community ownership of the pole and prevent vandalism from occurring as it has in nearby communities.
“I’m interested in having help from the people in the community, especially young people – even just one swing of an axe,” he told the Gazette earlier this year. “They can feel an ownership over [the pole], which could save it from the vandalism many totem poles are subject to.”
“We hope it will remain an isolated incident, it’s a community pole,” Aaron Hamilton added, “the whole premise is to keep it out in the open so everyone can see how it’s being carved.”
Aaron Hamilton said that in order to prevent further vandalism from taking place, the pole will have to be raised in a visible and high-traffic area once it is finished, and that cameras may be necessary in the gazebo while carvers are still working on it.
“I don’t know what will happen when it’s raised, but we’ll be taking every measure possible to make sure it doesn’t happen,” he said. “We can’t afford to have something like this happen now.”
A report was filed with local RCMP following the discovery on July 1 at 1:45 p.m.
“Apparently what had happened was that the carver had left the area for a break and when he returned he noticed it,” Sgt. Wes Olsen said. “Well, you have to wonder where some people’s heads are when they do things like that.
“You can’t teach common sense. It sounds like a kid. Basically the police do have a file open on it and we’re actively investigating for an offence which would be construed as mischief under $5,000.”
Anybody with information is asked to contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS or the Lake Cowichan RCMP detachment at 250-749-6668.
“We’d be interested in speaking with any witnesses or in being able to track down the culprit or culprits who did it,” Olsen said.
Meanwhile, the reaction from the public over the incident has been very strong. Band member Melanie Livingstone posted photos of the markings to the Cowichan Lake Communities Grapevine Facebook page (www.facebook.com/groups/gvine) shortly after they were discovered, stating that the act was “total disrespect to our elders/carvers that are dedicating our time to this project!!!” The post elicited over 100 responses from residents, expressing their shock and disapproval of the vandalism.
The totem pole is planned to be raised during Labour Day weekend in September, when a traditional ceremony and celebration will be held in Ts’uubaa-asatx Square to commemorate the occasion.
The band is also looking for volunteers to keep watch over the pole during lunchtime. To lend a hand, speak to artist Ron Hamilton at Ts’uubaa-asatx Square.