When Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School students walk into school next year the first thing they will see is a carved wooden entranceway that reads Le7re7stskitse.
This loosely means “welcome” in Secwepemc, according to Canim Lake carver Jerome Boyce, who created the piece out of Western Red Cedar from the Mount Polley mine disaster.
The new entranceway celebrates local First Nations heritage and welcomes everyone to the school.
“I tried to make it like two beings because it’s a school. There’s a teacher on one side and a student on the other side and the letters, … I can’t say it because I had my language beaten out of me when I was young, but it means ‘welcome home’ or ‘welcome spirit power,’” said Boyce, who supervised and assisted in the installation of the entranceway last Thursday. “Welcome spirit power sounds more like the school here because the teachers are trying to keep the childrens’ spirit and they’re welcome in this place.”
The totems that support the main archway, which took three months to carve, represent an eagle, a bear and a beaver. Boyce said the beaver represents regular hard-working people, the bear symbolizes strength and healing and the eagle represents the creator.
The entranceway was smudged by PSO’s First Nation’s cultural support worker Amber Christopher, who burned cedar and sweetgrass.
Sitka Log Homes Inc. owner, Brad Johnson, said he and his team were pleased to help Boyce and students and staff at PSO install the entranceway.
“It’s pretty exciting for us to work with the school and community like this,” Johnson said. “We’ve put a lot of extra labour and love in it to make sure it goes right.”
Principal Geoff Butcher said the carving has been a long time coming. He and his staff have tried to find ways to integrate First Nations culture and awareness within the building and they chose to recognize their Shuswap students. In addition to SD27, the school received support from the Cariboo Family Enrichment Centre, the PSO Wood Lot, the First Nations Education Committee and PSO’s Parent Advisory Committee.
“We all got together and said we didn’t just want to do something that was small but something that is going to be really classy and well done,” Butcher said. “Recognizing the First Nations people in this way is a worthwhile and necessary endeavour.”
Butcher said it’s fortuitous that the archway is being installed this month, following the recent revelations about the 215 children found buried on the Kamloops Indian Residental School property. An official dedication for the entranceway will take place in September with SD27 staff, local First Nations bands and government officials.
Boyce, who runs Ctsekwtiken Construction, said it was an honour to work on the project and he’s proud that people value his work. Mostly self-taught, Boyce has been carving since he was 12 years old and said carving helps him relieve stress and centre himself, while making a little money on the side.
“It kind of helps me when I’m having troubles and going through rough times. I just sit down and carve for 10, 12, 16 hours and then that feeling is gone. Next day I’m feeling ok,” said Boyce.
Boyce said he usually starts a piece by sketching it out, as it’s easier to make changes to a design on paper than a log. Artistically, for his totems especially, he takes a lot of inspiration from the woodwork of the Coastal Salish peoples, as he is also Interior Salish.
“I like to think we’re on the same page as them. It shows that we’re all praying to the same Creator.”
One of his favourite parts about carving is seeing people’s reactions, Boyce said. PSO, students and teachers commented on how beautiful it was.
Grade 12 student Antóin Murray, who has First Nations heritage, said it meant a lot to see the entranceway go up. Murray feels it’s very important to recognize and acknowledge indigenous history, especially right now.
“It’s come a long way even since I was just in kindergarten, so I think it’s really cool,” Murray said. “Everybody deserves to be welcomed in the community.”