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UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 4 | Apr. 3, 2003

A New Thunderbird Will Rise Again on Campus

Totem creates a more welcoming environment for aboriginals

By Brian Lin

UBC is about to launch a fundraising campaign to erect a new Thunderbird totem pole.

The original pole, presented to the Alma Mater Society during the 1948 homecoming football game, was first erected outside Brock Hall and later relocated to Student Union Boulevard near the North Parkade.

The late Chief William Scow of Vancouver Island's Kwick-sutaineuk Nation and his son Alfred -- who attended UBC Law School and later became the first aboriginal lawyer and judge in B.C. -- joined noted carver Ellen Neel and her husband Edward in presenting the stunning pole, aptly named “Victory Through Honour.”

Chief Scow also gave UBC the right to use the name Thunderbird for its sports teams, making it the only Canadian university with official permission from the First Nation to use the Thunderbird crest.

Two years ago, the pole was desecrated by vandals and now lies in fragments in the South Campus warehouse, where it will stay until a new pole is erected.

The pole was raised at a time when only a few First Nations students attended UBC, and participating in “any Indian festival, dance or other ceremony” and giving away Indian goods was an indictable offence under the Indian Act says Madeleine MacIvor, associate director of the First Nations House of Learning. In dedicating the pole to UBC, Neel spearheaded the efforts to establish a close relationship between the university and First Nations communities.

“To the native people of the whole province we can give our assurance that [their] children will be accepted at this school by the staff and student council, eager to smooth their paths with kindness and understanding,” Neel said at the time.

“We need now only students to take advantage of the opportunity, so that some day our doctors, lawyers, social workers and departmental workers will be fully trained university graduates of our own race.”

A committee, chaired by Community Affairs Executive Director Sid Katz and including members of the Neel and Scow families, has secured wood from northern B.C. and identified a carver with the help of the Neel family. The new pole will be partly carved in northern B.C. before it is transported to campus, where students, faculty and staff can witness its rebirth.

“We’re estimating the total cost of re-erecting the Thunderbird pole to be approximately $100,000,” says Katz. “We will be looking for contributions, big or small, to help finance this project. Every little bit helps.”

The new pole will help create a more welcoming environment for aboriginal people, which Katz says is a vital part of building and maintaining relationships with our neighbours, the Musqueam and other First Nations.

MacIvor says re-erecting and re-dedicating the pole presents a great opportunity for UBC to renew its commitment to aboriginal student recruitment. Currently, there are approximately 500 self-identified First Nations students at UBC, making up just one per cent of the total student population.

“The original Thunderbird pole symbolized a commitment by UBC and First Nations to develop an ongoing relationship. Over the years, that history was forgotten and the relationship has suffered as a result,” says MacIvor.

“The new pole will serve as a reminder of the strong relationship that First Nations and the university are striving for.”

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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