Park­dale grad­u­ates rally to save school totem pole

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - JEFF MA­HONEY

First, some his­tory. In 1967, dur­ing a snow­storm, a Hamil­ton bus slid into a new hy­dro pole on Bar­ton Street frac­tur­ing it at the base.

Fifty years later, that pole still holds up lines of power, so to speak, trans­mit­ting a kind of elec­tric­ity from one gen­er­a­tion to an­other and, now per­haps, from one set of sen­si­tiv­i­ties to an­other.

The pole, with some re­pair patches grafted on from other sources, stands proudly and colour­fully at the front door of Park­dale El­e­men­tary School. It’s a sym­bol not only of Park­dale, but the com­mu­nity that draws en­ergy from the school.

At the time, word got around that op­por­tu­nity teacher Wal­ter Moir wanted his stu­dents to work on a totem pole project, but the old tele­phone pole ac­quired for the pur­pose was too soft to carve.

So, the bro­ken pole was al­lo­cated to the school, the Hamil­ton Street Rail­way pitched in the paint, and upon de­liv­ery, the pole was put on saw horses and di­vided into three-foot sec­tions. The whole school worked on it, paint­ing sto­ries up and down its height.

“A photograph on the front of The Spec­ta­tor,” for­mer Park­dale par­ent Ab­bie Boyko tells me, “showed how they got it erected on the school’s front lawn.” Kids and teach­ers, us­ing skip­ping ropes to pull it out and guy it up.

They love their totem pole at Park­dale, its image even fig­ur­ing on their flash­ing sign.

It will be con­sid­ered, along with po­ten­tially all school lo­gos, mas­cots and nick­names un­der the Hamil­ton pub­lic board’s ju­ris­dic­tion, in a provin­cially man­dated re­view process to en­sure cul­tural sen­si­tiv­ity, prompted by a 2016 bid to bar the Cleve­land In­di­ans’ name and mas­cot at Toronto Blue Jays games.

Noth­ing has hap­pened yet, but Ab­bie’s not wait­ing to be re­ac­tive.

“We’re not let­ting go,” she says, pre-emp­tively. She fought to keep the school open when it was be­ing con­sid­ered for clo­sure.

“I care,” she says. “The totem pole is not just out­side.” An image of it is painted on the wall in­side and around it the sig­na­ture of ev­ery stu­dent who grad­u­ates.

There are new guide­lines, says Jackie Pen­man, cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager of the Hamil­ton-Went­worth District School Board, but the pole isn’t be­ing sin­gled out. Any sym­bol might come un­der scru­tiny.

“The next step,” Pen­man says, “is the board’s Indige­nous Ed­u­ca­tion Cir­cle will be asked if there are any con­cerns. If the an­swer is no, we’re not go­ing to pur­sue it.”

Says Sharon Stepha­nian, su­per­in­ten­dent of lead­er­ship and learn­ing: “There will be a con­ver­sa­tion about the pole, but con­nected to it will be a con­ver­sa­tion about what it means to the school as a logo, an en­tity with his­tory in the school” and pos­si­bly a teach­ing tool.

The process is de­signed, she says, to en­sure there’s re­spect for all par­ties.

For­mer Park­dale par­ent Shar­iLyn Terry, who was born in Bri­tish Columbia and has Haida off­shoot an­ces­try, was given the totem pole to re­store at her home in 2010 af­ter it be­gan to de­cay.

“I sat in the backyard for months, with a leg brace at the time, fix­ing it, re­plac­ing sec­tions. Ev­ery time I walk by I’m proud.”

She used her knowl­edge of totem pole sym­bols to bring the de­sign in line with na­tive tra­di­tion, build­ing a story around it and de­pict­ing the owl to stand for learn­ing, teach­ing, wis­dom; and the bear for strength; the orca for fam­ily; and so on.

The re­stored totem pole was ded­i­cated in 2010 with a smudg­ing cer­e­mony and shawl dance, both per­formed by Shari-Lyn.

She’s part-na­tive but, Shari-Lyn

says, “In my heart I’m full. I walk the cul­ture.”

There are na­tive chil­dren in the school. It’s near a na­tive cen­tre with a day care, Ni­wasa Head Start, where some Park­dale fam­i­lies go. And “the school is built on na­tive land,” says Shari-Lyn.

“The totem pole be­longs here,” she says.

Adds John Terry, her son, a grad­u­ate, “It makes the school stand out.”

BARRY GRAY, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Shari-Lyn Terry, left, and for­mer Park­dale stu­dents and par­ents have ral­lied to pro­tect a totem pole that stands at the en­trance to the east-end school.

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