Students at Westview Elementary School are currently helping put the finishing touches on a traditional first nations welcome pole being created under the guidance of carver Ivan Rosypskye.
“The log arrived in early February; it was donated by Tla’amin Nation,” said Westview principal Jamie Burt. “It came in as just a beautiful, raw piece of wood.”
Rosyskye and the students have transformed the log into an eight-foot female welcome figure that will grace the entrance of the school. Rosypskye previously worked on welcome pole projects at other schools in School District 47, but not with such a young group. He said he was unsure how the project would be received at the elementary school.
“When I first started, I had no idea how it was going to be taken,” said Rosypskye, “but this school is just incredible and the kids all want to help.”
It proved to be such a hit with younger students that Rosypskye has a regular crew of helpers joining him every day during their breaks.
Burt attributes the popularity of the project to Rosypskye’s kindness and patience teaching the younger students.
“Ivan has a phenomenal way with the kids,” said Burt. “He’s been so welcoming that during lunchtime and recess we try to limit the number of little rugrats who get in here.”
One of the differences in working with such young students involved modifying the tools used for the project, said Rosypskye.
“Some of the young ones really wanted to get into it, so I have adapted the tools we use,” he said. “The older ones can use an adze, but the little ones use chisels.”
Everyone wants to join in sanding the totem, he added.
“This is the most sanded pole I’ve ever done,” said Rosypskye.
One of the core group of helpers, seven-year-old Katie Collings, said she would like to see carving taught as a class at the school. That idea was echoed by other students, as were feelings of accomplishment and pride in their work.
“I liked helping and looking at the progress of the pole,” said Lux Pierce, 11.
Tristan Munro, 13, said he agrees with his fellow student.
“Watching it go from a simple log to a beautiful piece of artwork just fills you with joy,” he said.
Burt said cultural awareness and understanding has been a huge part of the learning involved in the project.
“The connections Ivan has made with some of our little regular helpers, it’s been pretty powerful,” he said. “It’s going to be emotional for a lot of them when they actually see the pole go up.”
The relationship between Tla’amin Nation and the school district has made opportunities like this possible, added Burt, who said he has seen learning about first nations culture and traditions blossom in schools over the last two years. He said he hopes that this project will stand out for the students involved throughout their lives.
“Hopefully one day they will drive by it when they’re my age, maybe with their kids, and say ‘I played a part in that pole,’ because it’s going to be here for a long time welcoming people to our school.”
The unveiling of the welcome pole will take place on Wednesday, June 13.