Pacific Rim Totems and Legends

Totems by Doug LaFortune

Surrounded by the natural wonders of BC’s rain forests and wild life, it is easy to appreciate the myths and legends of the First Nations people.

The original inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest relied on oral tradition to record their history and carved totem poles to create a permanent record of  events. Typically the totems were carved from the single trunk of a cedar tree.   Totem artists often speak of a spiritual connection to the original tree.

When a great tree is chosen for a totem pole or a canoe, there are ceremonies to celebrate the rebirth of the tree into a new existence. These ceremonies reflect our understanding that there is a spiritual connection between man and tree, that we are all aspects of a greater whole, and that the apparent differences between flesh and wood are insignificant compared to the kinship between the spirit of the tree and the spirit of the carver.” (Richard Krentz, Salish artist. Nov 2012).

The city of Duncan aka “City of Totems”,  has one of the world’s largest, outdoor collection of publicly displayed totem poles. They were created in a joint community project with the Quw’utsun’ (Cowichan) people.  Altogether  some forty totems are placed around the city, on land acknowledged as traditional Quw’utsun’ lands.

In another city Sooke,  is an artfully painted fiberglass bear “Kody”.

Kody was part of a  public art initiative and was created by local Sooke artists Gene Sebelius and Bonnie Spencer.  He captures the Kitasoo legend where Raven, who created all living things after the great ice age, went among the bears and turned every tenth bear white as a reminder of the time when the world was pure and clean and covered with ice.

As a point of fact, the Spirit bear does actually exist.

In modern science he is called the  Kermode bear and lives only in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest. He is not related to the polar bear nor is he an albino. He is a Black Bear with a recessive gene that causes about 1 in 10 bears to be white. Families of these bears can consist of both black and white bears.

Interesting, yes?

A wonderful meet up  of myth and science, history and life, coming together in art.

Made only in Canada.

Duncan & Sooke. Vancouver Island, BC. 2017 



Native American Pow Wows

grandriver-9931The first time I attended a Pow Wow it wasn’t even a Pow Wow.  It was a Native American concert with time carved out for a traditional and fancy shawl dance demonstration. Lakota rapper Frank Wahn was the headline feature but the highlight for me were the dance performances. I’ve since attended larger and more official Pow Wows.  Every time, just like the first time, I am impressed by their color and pageantry.

There’s something spectacular about a Pow Wow.  It begins with the Grand Entry when distinguished elders, veterans and leaders of the community enter the circle with the Eagle Staff.  They’re followed by a parade of all the inter tribal participants. Over the PA system the MC announces the entrants and the participants dance to the rhythmic beat of the drum singers.   It’s all very exciting and well …grand.

Modern day Pow Wows are a way to preserve the rich heritage of the North American Indian tribes and in many cases, include elaborate demonstrations and contests for dance and song performances.

In the summer months there’s a regular roster of Pow Wows throughout Canada and US.  When I attended my first pow wow, it was relatively low key with most of the spectators visiting from surrounding areas and reservations. This year I noticed an increase in the number of tourists and international languages peppering the crowds.   Modern day intrusions, like unabashed selfie takers and intrusive drone cameras (!) have become distractions. Thankfully, they are still minor in occurrence.

Brittney Shki-Giizis
Brittney Shki-Giizis

Generally performers are friendly and amenable to posing for pictures (with permission) and talking about their regalia.  I met Brittney Shki-Giizis who gave me background on her outfit and close-up pictures of her dress.

Called ‘regalia’,  Brittney’s outfit had sewn-in symbols of her tribe and clan; flowers for the Ojibwe tribe and her crow ‘helper’ from the Marten clan. The outfit was all handmade, intricately embroidered with millions of tiny beads.  It’s no wonder that her dress cost thousands of dollars to make.

Brittney is also an avid vblogger and her Youtube channel gives a fascinating look at Pow Wows, in front and behind the scenes.  Check out her vlog entry here for the Six Nations Pow Wow where we met … and yes, I agree with her: it was a sweltering 40 degrees and the paparazzi like spectators were embarrassingly aggressive in taking pictures.  Hopefully, she doesn’t remember me as one of them.

Ontario, Canada.  September, 2016 

For more pictures on Pow Wows see my Flickr album Native American Pow Wows and for more information about Pow Wows in general have a look at