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House Post Unveiling at Southlands Elementary

| Categories: Indigenous
Southlands Elementary House Post

In the last week of February, a house post carved by Brent Sparrow of the Musqueam Nation was unveiled to students, staff, trustees and guests at Southlands Elementary school. The unveiling served as an opportunity for those gathered to learn, unlearn and move forward in a better way. 

While house posts are often confused with totem poles, there are significant differences between the two. Totem poles represent and commemorate ancestry, histories, people, or events. House posts, like an address on a house, are traditionally located inside or outside of a home and represent the people who live there. For all the students of Southland Elementary, it is a reminder that they belong. House posts are an important part of Musqueam culture, and this ceremony has been performed in longhouses for time immemorial.

Four individuals were called as witnesses during Southlands’ ceremony, including Musqueam community members, Gordan Grant, Wade Grade and Dickie Lewis, and VSB superintendent, Helen McGregor. The called witnesses are responsible for sharing what they have seen with the larger Musqueam community. The Musqueam witnesses are also responsible for ensuring protocol is followed and non-community members have a responsibility to share what they saw and heard with their own community. This ensures that protocol is both respected and honoured. 

The unveiling was a highly meaningful moment for Musqueam people and Elders, as many community members attended Southlands when they were children. One of whom was Brent Sparrow, the artist responsible for the Southlands carving. To honour him and his work, Sparrow was wrapped in a blanket and was drummed into the ceremony by community members. His work is both meaningful and relevant, not only to the Musqueam community, but also the school community where several of his nieces and nephews attend currently. As the tarp was removed and the house post was revealed, applause and cheers echoed throughout the crowd. Alec Dan, the speaker for the ceremony, described the meaning behind various sections of the carving.

“The beautiful woman’s face [represents] our matriarchs. We are a matriarchal society,” Dan explained. 

The salmon carvings represent the importance of salmon to the Musqueam people, “The salmon are wrapped around, almost like a blanket. You see the salmon are coming up, like they were coming back up the river to spawn.” 

The spindle whorl, an important tool used for weaving blankets, was next. 

“We always say how important the blanket is, that warm embrace, that hug. Our honoured guest is covered in a blanket today,” Dan said, referring to Sparrow. “That’s to honour him and give him that warm hug to let him know [the] respect and honour we have for him as the wonderful artist that he is. [The spindle whorl] was a really important tool. That's how we would spin our wool to make...into the weaving blankets.” 

Dan continued, “Inside the spindle we see two eagles. They often have wisdom and knowledge. We see that the eagle’s moving counterclockwise shape, that is known to Musqueam to be the way of the water and the way of life.” 

An Honour song and eagle dance were performed to further honour Sparrow and his work. 

This step towards reconciliation had a significant impact on all those who attended. Southlands’ principal, Margaret Paxton, was brought to tears at the end of the ceremony, noting the importance of this day. 

VSB works closely with Musqueam artists to showcase their work, values and teachings throughout the District situated in their territory. The house posts and other works of art created hold great meaning to many, including school communities where the art lives, and for the artists and the Musqueam community. 

“It’s always important to share who we are,” Dan continues. 

In continuing our reconciliation work, it is important for all members of VSB to listen, learn, unlearn and create space for that sharing to be known by future generations.

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