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Former students blast decision to remove Totem Pole from Hume Elementary School Yard

The Totem Pole designed and carved by students at Hume Elementary during the early 1970s lays in the yard of the Kootenay Lake School District. The photo below show what is left of the project after staff bucked up the pole. — Submitted photos

Some students who attended Hume Elementary in the early 1970s feel the Kootenay Lake School Board deserves a failing grade after removing the Totem Pole from the front of the Fairview school during the summer.

Henk Ravenstein, one of the original carvers of the Totem Pole, can’t understand why this heritage monument was destroyed with, what he believes, was very little public input.

“The media wasn't even informed what was happening with the pole, not to mention, nothing has been posted or mentioned at School District 8 board minutes which should have been posted for public information,” Ravenstein told The Nelson Daily in an emailed statement.

“(It's a) sad and disappointing day for the so-called "Heritage City " Nelson,” Ravenstein added.

Ravenstein, who grew up in Nelson and attended Hume Elementary from Grade two to seven, said the project was spearheaded by Grade 6 teacher Ed Sikula after the province announced a directive to increase indigenous history studies.

The now Trail resident said many of the students in Grade six and Grade seven signed up to become part of the project.

“We were instructed that all the carving tools were to be hand built,” said Ravenstein, adding the pole was donated by the local sawmill operation, Kootenay Forest Products, previously located on the now John’s Walk street in Fairview.

“Nothing was allowed to be purchased or taken from dad’s work bench.”

“So we made the chisels from cutting edges which most likely came for KFP, used hockey sticks and drill holes in birch logs and this made the mallets,” Ravenstein added.

Ravenstein said the project showed Grade five, six and seven students the work it took indigenous people to design and carve totem poles.

Ravenstein said he found out the Totem Pole was quietly removed from the Hume Elementary school yard in June of this year.

When his brother James Ravenstein inquired about the status of the Totem Pole and interest in preserving heritage archive by private individuals in July, his brother discovered the pole had been cut up.

“I can't understand why this heritage monument was destroyed and no public input allowed,” Ravenstein said.

However, Kootenay Lake School District Superintendent Christine Perkins has a different take regarding the decision to remove the Totem Pole.

“Discussion about the removal of the Hume (Totem) pole has been discussed over the past two or three years and came formally before the Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee in November 2019 and is on the (Kootenay Lake School District) website,” Perkins explained.

Perkins said the Hume Totem Pole was not authentic to this area.

In fact, Perkins states, the agenda item was brought to the board by Principal Janene Bates-Stein, who also assisted in the carving of the Totem Pole during her time at Hume Elementary.

“Hume families, students, PAC, Metis partners and Lower Kootenay Band were all approached (regarding) steps for moving forward,” Perkins said, adding prior to any formal decision being made, COVID-19 occurred and no spring (board) meeting was held.

Perkins said in late June reports of youngsters climbing on the Totem Pole during were made to the district by the City of Nelson.

The Kootenay Lake School operations department assessed that the base of the Totem Pole was rotting and determined the pole was a danger to the public.

“We did not want a child or vehicle driving be to be hit, and/or, potentially fatally hurt,” said Perkins.

Ravenstein said his brother located the Totem Pole at the Kootenay Lake School maintenance yard where it currently rests, now bucked up into short pieces.

He remains frustrated Kootenay Lake School District didn't put more effort into locating other past graduating students from Hume, like Ravenstein, who may be interested in preserving the class project.

“Many students viewed the project as a constructive piece of art . . . as this was a massive undertaking,” said Ravenstein.

“I don't think anywhere in Canada has a classroom of kids ever built a Totem Pole.”

Photos, above and below, show the Totem Pole left in pieces in the maintenance yard in after being bucked up by Kootenay Lake School Board staff. — Submitted