The Eaglechild totem pole, which has stood on the riverbank in Prince Albert, Sask., for 45 years, has been cut down.
“I was emotional. I wanted to cry. It was like a death,” Okanese First Nation’s Darlene Stonechild said on Monday.
The totem pole was removed because the base was rotting, making it unsafe.
Instead of being discarded, the pole was carved into pieces and loaded onto a trailer. It will be refinished and reconstructed on Okanese First Nation near Stonechild’s house.
She has a personal connection to the totem pole. In 1974, her brother Dale Stonechild helped carve it.
“I would like something back home for his grandchildren to be proud of,” she said.
Forty-five years ago, Dale Stonechild was a prisoner in the Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert. The prison had few opportunities for inmates to keep in touch with their families, so the city’s residents reached out.
Through events like card games, picnics and barbecues, the residents of the city met with the inmates to give them a feeling of connection with the world outside the prison fences.
“And we certainly appreciate them and do whatever we can for them. And I know that they appreciate the city as well,” he said.
The inmates carved the pole to show their appreciation to the city.
When Stonechild heard that the pole was going to be removed she contacted the city.
She said her brother, who is currently incarcerated in B.C., was happy to know that his art will be shown in Okanese.
After the pole was cut into pieces and placed on the truck trailer, Stonechild kept placing her hand on it.
She said she was “having a silent prayer inside my mind, inside my heart and saying that good things will happen.”
Stonechild said she is proud of her brother’s artistic accomplishments and is looking forward to having a reminder of her brother in Okanese.
“I’ll probably think that, oh you know, a piece of my brother is here with me today. A piece of my brother is here with my grandchildren, with his grandchildren, his relatives.”
She said that she will host a feast and pipe ceremony to honour the tree, the carvers and the people of Prince Albert.
She also said she hopes to have the totem repainted and reconstructed in a few weeks time.