A totem pole that was deliberately burned in early July was taken down this past weekend for refurbishment, and will be returned to its location at the top of the Malahat.
The Salish Bear Totem was removed on July 31 following a small private ceremony to ensure that cultural protocols were followed. The totem was set on fire in the early morning of July 2, and a message reading, “One totem — one statue” was spraypainted on a nearby concrete barrier. The act of arson was believed to be retaliation for the toppling of a statue of Captain James Cook in Victoria on the previous day.
Two women who saw the fire used water bottles in an attempt to douse the flames, and others driving by stopped to help until fire crews arrived.
Leaders of nine Victoria-area First Nations, including the Malahat First Nation, signed a document the following week calling for an end to incidents of violence and vandalism.
“We need to walk together, support each other and demonstrate humanity,” the declaration stated.
Since the totem was burned, the City of Duncan has been working with the Modeste family, Cowichan Tribes and Cowichan elders to follow the protocols for removing the totem and beginning refurbishment. The Ministry of Transportation and Highways provided the funding for the July 31 ceremony and refurbishment of the pole.
The Salish Bear Totem was carved by the late Stan Modeste, a two-term elected chief of Cowichan Tribes, as part of the 1966 Route of the Totem Centennial project coordinated by the Ministry of Transportation and Highways. In 2015, the City of Duncan oversaw the refurbishment of the totem on behalf of the ministry. A private ceremony was held at that time as well, under the guidance of the Modeste family, Cowichan Tribes and Cowichan elders.
Although the damaged totem pole was removed from the lookout at the Malahat Summit, memorial items placed at the site will remain there.