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Representatives from the community and the RCMP, including members in red serge, stand next to a totem pole.

New detachment totem pole a step forward in reconciliation on Haida Gwaii

The totem pole was raised during a potlatch ceremony in September. Credit: Cst. Bill Nadeau


Anyone entering the RCMP's Daajing Giids (Queen Charlotte) detachment will now be greeted by a totem pole, a welcome sign in the Haida language and the flag of the Council of the Haida Nation.

The detachment is located on Haida Gwaii, an archipelago in British Columbia.

The project was more than a decade in the making and spearheaded by Bev Yovanovich, the detachment's administrative clerk for 25 years.

"It's always been in my head that we need to make our detachment more reflective of the area that we live in," says Yovanovich, who herself is Haida.

The eight-foot-tall totem pole, created by a local Haida master carver, features a traditional Haida Watchman, which are the protectors of the community, land, air and sea. The figure holds a copper shield filled with Haida iconography, has pink fingers nails to represent female RCMP members and the LGBTQ2S community, and a Stetson hat to symbolize the RCMP instead of the traditional west-coast style cedar hat.

"There's a lot of message in that little pole," says Yovanovich. "It's really a culturally appropriate fusion of Haida design and RCMP uniform."

The pole was raised during a potlatch ceremony –an Indigenous gift-giving feast –at the detachment on Sep. 9, 2021 attended by B.C. RCMP leadership, the Skidegate Band Council, the Council of the Haida Nation, hereditary chiefs, matriarchs and community members from across the coast.

The usual west coast wet weather held off for the day, providing sunny skies for everyone attending.

"When we put up the totem pole and raised the Council of the Haida Nation flag, there wasn't a lot of dry eyes in the community," says RCMP Sgt. Greg Willcocks, detachment commander in Daajing Giids (Queen Charlotte). "One reason we have the totem pole and the flag is because the community was ready for this step in reconciliation."

A whole of community effort

Totem Poles are traditionally used by some west coast First Nations to document notable events, commemorate ancestors, and honour people and families through symbols.

Throughout the project, RCMP officers engaged with community members to ensure cultural customs and traditions were followed and respected.

"Anybody can buy a pole and raise it, but if you do it according to local cultural customs it's a whole different thing," says Yovanovich. "We're a small detachment and it normally takes a whole community to pull off a pole raising and potlatch."

RCMP Cst. Chris Carlucci sourced eagle down to bless the pole and eagle feathers to provide as gifts to Elders. He worked with B.C. Conservation to secure a permit to hunt the birds, and partnered with a Haida Elder to process the feathers according to traditional customs, which include providing an offering and blessing the birds.

"It's not something you can purchase or acquire in town," says Carlucci. "I had to rely a lot on some members of the community who had done it before."

The ceremony was a welcome event after a long planning process and a lack of events in the tight-knit community during the pandemic.

Part of the community

The detachment has taken other steps to become a more welcoming place for Haida Gwaii residents. A new sign now also welcomes visitors in the Haida language and the detachment's foyer is fitted with cedar panels carved and painted in the style of a west coast longhouse.

"We're trying to get away from the government feel of the building and make people feel more welcome to come in and talk with police," says Cst. Dale Judd, who spent three years as an Indigenous Policing Services officer at the detachment.

The RCMP also works closely with the Skidegate First Nation to address public safety priorities, such as drug trafficking, and regularly engages with local youth at schools and community centres providing educational talks and playing pick-up basketball.

"At the end of the day, we want to be integrated into the community," says Willcocks. "We serve the Haida population here and we want everyone to know that if they need help, or something bad has happened to them, they can come here and speak with a police officer who will do everything in their power to help them."

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