Kwakiutl chief Calvin Hunt’s latest totem pole is taking shape in the Tsakis Village, on northern Vancovuer Island.
The pole is a big one, 30-feet long and three-feet wide, and once finished, will be erected outside of the coast guard’s new logistics depot building across the bay in Port Hardy.
An artist for more than four decades, Hunt owns the Copper Maker Gallery in the Tsakis Village (Fort Rupert), and continues to create works of art like masks, drums, carvings and totem poles.
Hunt hails from a long and an unbroken line of totem pole carvers – Charlie James, Mungo Martin, Doug Cranmer, Henry Hunt Sr. and Tony Hunt Sr. – and this totem pole project is being sponsored by his family and the coast guard.
Normally he would have used a log like this one for a family project, he says, but he felt it was important to use it to make a statement about the land.
“This pole is going to stand facing the water, you’re going to be able to see it across the bay in Carrot Park,” he says. “We’re trying to make a statement here that … this is Kwakiutl territory.”
There used to be big houses and villages situated all across the bay, he says.
The base of the pole features a bear holding a salmon.
“At one time there was so much salmon around here it was just incredible, our resources were managed so well, but now they’re almost all gone,” he said. “Salmon are so important to our culture for our potlatches and our feasting.”
The middle of the totem pole features a killer whale with a mink coming out of the blowhole and a raven on top.
This artwork tells the tale of a famous legend shared through generations from the Tlingit side of his family.
Then there’s the massive eagle resting on top, which represents the Kwakiutl nation.
“We’re the head tribe of all the Kwakwaka’wakw people, so when there’s a potlatch or a feast, the Kwakiutl are always first to speak,” Hunt says.
Finally, there’s a sun that represents the First Nation’s creation story.
“These figures are all important to the Kwakiutl,” he says, noting that all the artwork combined represents the First Nation’s connection to the land, the sea and the sky.
Hunt estimates he’s been working on the pole for more than two months now, carving it entirely by himself. He’s aiming to finish carving it and have it painted by November.