375th anniversary of Montreal - Unveiling of a spectacular totem pole created by Charles Joseph of the Kwakiutl Nation


MONTREAL, May 3, 2017 /CNW Telbec/ - Artist Charles Joseph (1959) of the Kwakiutl Nation of the West Coast of Canada will unveil his work Residential School Totem Pole to be raised in the ancestral territory of Kanien'keha:ka, the nation to which it pays homage, in the context of an official opening ceremony for the work. This totem pole, displayed for the first time, will form part of La Balade pour la Paix – An Open-Air Museum, an exhibition of public art, designed and organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts with the support of McGill University as part of the official programme celebrating Montreal's 375th anniversary

This monumental piece (21.45 metres high) will open the exhibition route along Sherbrooke Street West in front of the MMFA's Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion. The totem pole is a tribute to the First Nations children, of whom the artist Charles Joseph was one, who were taken away from their families and sent to the residential schools of religious communities. On May 29, 2015 the Canadian government acknowledged that these children had been, between 1820 and 1996, the victims of a cultural genocide.

Charles Joseph states: "Presenting this pole is for all Canadians, not just residential school survivors. This is my reconciliation, and my story is on the pole. The story is not just about Charles Joseph, it's about everyone who went through it. I need to tell the story in this form, but it is about survivors from across Canada."

According to Nathalie Bondil, the Museum's Director General and Chief Curator, "We are deeply moved today to unveil this new totem pole by Charles Joseph in the context of the celebrations. Only six of the First Nations of the West Coast ever carved these works… and there are even fewer today because the technical and artistic skills required to make them are so demanding. Traditionally the gigantic witnesses to their history perpetuated the story of important events for the Native Peoples. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada estimates that 150,000 children were torn from their families during the past century, complying with the government's assimilation policy. Telling the story of this tragedy through the powerful artistry of one of our leading creators is essential in the perspective of our new century."

"We are very honoured to be a part of this totem raising ceremony here on Kanien'keha:ka territory," says Christine Zachary Deom, Chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake. "Our territory has always been a place of gathering and exchange and we are very pleased to see these bridges being built with Montreal, the Kwakiutl Nation, and our community. Our people have been eager to have their presence and history acknowledged, and this is a great initiative towards reconciliation" she added.

"We salute the involvement of our First Nations artists in making Canadians aware of our history, even of its darkest side, as in the case of the residential schools. I thank Charles Joseph for this work, and above all for its positive consciousness-raising effect. This is a contribution that will help to bring about the reconciliation of our peoples that is so vital", stated Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Quebec-Labrador Assembly of First Nations.

"The Society for the Celebration of Montréal's 375th Anniversary is happy to emphasize the close links that bind together the First Nations peoples and our City. With its over 30,000 Native citizens, Montreal constitutes the largest indigenous community in Quebec. La Balade pour la paix, the flagship project of the official programme for the celebrations of the 375th anniversary, is an ideal expression of the wealth of links between our peoples. The work of the artist Charles Joseph of the Kwakiutl Nation, raised on the ancestral territory of Kanien'keha:ka, is a prime example of the cultural richness of the First Nations and of the ties that bind us", said Alain Gignac, Director General of the the Society for the Celebration of Montréal's 375th Anniversary.

"The City is firmly committed to reconciliation, and our pledge takes on new meaning as we stand before this totem pole and remember the thousands of Aboriginal people who passed through the residential school system. This totem pole reminds us of our present duty, and we are humbled by history. I would like to commend Charles Joseph for creating this work of art and thank all the partners who made its presentation in Montreal possible. As we celebrate Montreal's 375th anniversary, understanding and reconciliation with Aboriginal peoples are of vital importance," said Denis Coderre, Mayor of Montreal.

The totem pole is a symbol of reconciliation and commemoration. It embodies a strong sense of the identity and pride of the Kwakiutl Nation of the West Coast of Canada. Joseph's Residential School Totem Pole depicts, from the bottom to the top: the members of the family of the sponsor of the Totem; the cedar ring symbolizing safety; the wild woman responsible for the traditional culture; the killer whale, the guardian of memory; the crow representing the alliance of Church and State; the bear for its strength and wisdom; the Arctic fox, the witness of the past; the Kulus, the great black ravens that according to the legend created the islands of the West Coast of Canada by dropping pebbles into the ocean; and at the top the two-headed snake with its wings unfurled in the shape of a cross.

The sculptor Charles Joseph also works as a fisherman and in the forest to provide for his family. As a child he spoke only his mother tongue, kwak'wala, before he learned English. He is deeply committed to preserving his culture. The revitalization and dissemination of the Kwakiutl traditions is the legacy he hopes to pass on to future generations. His works breathe new life into a culture, his own, which might have been decimated by the policies and practices of the colonizing powers. These creations are part of the process of reappropriating the Kwakiutl identity and the preservation of the way of life of the ancestors.

La Balade pour la Paix –An Open-Air Museum
On Sherbrooke Street West between the sections the MMFA/Concordia University – the McCord Museum/McGill University
June 5 to October 29, 2017

La Balade pour la Paix – An Open-Air Museum is part of the official programme for the 375th anniversary of Montreal. A truly open-air museum, the route will display works by Canadian and international artists, and fly the flags with the colours of the Confederation of Canada and of some 200 other countries. Commemorating two other important events, the 50th anniversary of Expo 67 and the 150th anniversary of the Confederation, the Balade reminds us that Expo 67, visited by 50 million people, was a window on to the world, a memorable event for Quebec and for Canada.

The ambassador for this exhibition is no other than Louise Arbour, who has battled throughout her career for the rights of man. She is currently the UN Special Representative for International Migration.

The exhibition has been designed and organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts with the support of McGill University. Thanks to the support of the City of Montreal, La Balade pour la Paix runs for a kilometre along Sherbrooke Street between the MMFA and Concordia University and the McCord Museum and McGill University. The curators are Nathalie Bondil, Director General and Chief Curator of the MMFA, Sylvie Lacerte, art historian and consultant for public art and Diane Charbonneau, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Decorative Arts, Design and Photography at the MMFA. The design for the installation was conceived by Claude Cormier, landscape architect, in collaboration with designer Michel Dallaire.

Credit : Charles Joseph, Born in Alert Bay, British Columbia, in 1959, Residential School Totem Pole, 2014–16, Red cedar, acrylic paint H. 1,524; W. 762; Diam. 152.4 cm. Private collection. Photo Greg McKee 2016

Press kit and images: mbam.qc.ca/en/media

Source and inquiries:

Patricia Lachance

Press officer | MMFA

T. 514-285-1600, ext. 315

C. 514.235-2044



Elisabeth-Anne Butikofer

Press officer | MMFA

T. 514-285-1600, ext. 205

C. 514-272-4653




About the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
The MMFA welcomes a million visitors annually. Quebec's most visited museum, it is one of the most popular museums in Canada, and ranks twelfth among art museums in North America. With their original designs, its temporary exhibitions combine the artistic disciplines (fine arts, music, film, fashion and design) and are exported around the world. Its rich encyclopedic collection, distributed among five pavilions, includes international art, world cultures, decorative arts and design, and Quebec and Canadian art. The MMFA complex also includes a concert hall that seats 460, Bourgie Hall. In addition, the MMFA is one of Canada's leading publishers of books on art in French and English, which are distributed internationally. Finally, the Museum houses the Michel de la Chenelière International Atelier for Education and Art Therapy, the largest educational complex in a North American museum of art, enabling the MMFA to offer innovative education, well-being and art-therapy projects.

About the Society for the Celebration of Montréal's 375th Anniversary
The Society for the Celebration of Montréal's 375th Anniversary is a non-profit organization whose mission is to organize the celebrations and socioeconomic contributions that will mark Montréal's 375th anniversary in 2017. With a focus on promoting Montréal expertise, it acts as a catalyst for local forces in carrying out its mandate: to mobilize the community, implement a funding strategy, rigorously manage public funds, develop quality programming and ensure the visibility of the celebrations.

The Society benefits from the support of the Ville de Montréal, the Québec government, the Canada government and private funding from 12 Great Montrealers. For more information, see http://www.375mtl.com

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SOURCE Société des célébrations du 375e anniversaire de Montréal

For further information: Media relations, Isabelle Pelletier, ipelletier@375mtl.com, 514-238-4178


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