The entrance to Prince of Wales Secondary looks different than it did a short time ago. Thanks to the talent and artistry of a Musqueam carver, Chris Sparrow, and the work of a dedicated group of students and their teacher sponsor, it now includes a diversity of voices that meets guests as soon as they walk in the building.
About a year ago, a group of students took a hard look at what the entrance of the school communicated to visitors and decided it needed to change.
“This work actually began as an idea that started with a student teacher that I had at school and she sort of took inventory of what was in this space and realized that there were certain things in here that communicated values that were contradictory of what our school truly did strive to represent,” explains Shauna Underwood, sponsor teacher of the Prince of Wales Student Reconciliation Committee. A member of the Musqueam Nation, Morgan Guerin, also spoke to the whole school about the significance and importance of a land acknowledgement. This sparked the idea for action among students, who wanted to take on a long-term project.
“So sort of combining those two things together: a challenge by a teacher to take further action and then weaving in the significance of the land and the land acknowledgement – that was something that the students really wanted to endeavour to have in this space,” Underwood explains.
The students worked with Musqueam artist, Chris Sparrow on a vision for a carving: a red cedar canoe paddle. On the finished paddle, a bear stands in water and holds a sturgeon. An elk antler sticks out from the side of the paddle. Sparrow explains traditionally, a carver often carved the antler into the shape of a hook to help catch sturgeon and other fish.
“When they explained it to me, I already saw it on the wood, on the paddle. When I cut the paddle out and they explained what they wanted, I saw this bear standing there holding a sturgeon,” Sparrow said.
On June 21, 2021, National Indigenous Peoples Day, Guerin led a small number of District and Prince of Wales Secondary students and staff in a ceremony to unveil and install the paddle at the entrance of the school. During the ceremony, he explained that significantly the paddle would hang with the blade down, as it was not hung for storage. “The intention is that paddle never stops being talked about. Those stories are never to stay in place, locked into time. “It is a conveyance, it is a tool for all of you to remember and keep those words moving. It is not something that is put away, it is something that is moving every single day through each one of you…the paddle is moving, not stored,” Guerin shared.
A plaque, which explains how the carving came to be, accompanies the paddle. As students and staff arrive in September and contemplate the addition to the school, they may also contemplate their own actions toward Reconciliation.
A heartfelt thanks to Chris Sparrow, Morgan Guerin, Trudi Harris, Shauna Underwood, the Indigenous Education department, and the Prince of Wales Student Reconciliation Committee.
Learn more about Indigenous Education at the District.
Watch a video of the ceremony: