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How Squamish youth and RCMP collaborated to create a symbol of community unity

Squamish youth spent months learning and carving a welcome pole with the RCMP.

There was a good turnout to see the work done by Squamish youth at the Squamish RCMP detachment on Thursday June 13, with 40 people attending a traditional Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw  (Squamish Nation) ceremony for the unveiling of a welcome pole.

The pole takes pride of place in the foyer of the Squamish RCMP building, and according to Don Ross Middle School First Nations support worker Anthony Joseph (Is’gh’li-ya), is intended to symbolize that the police detachment is a safe and welcoming place for all in the community.

The Welcome Pole itself is the result of months of work by Squamish youth who learned and carved and connected with each other and others in the community, like the Squamish RCMP.

Speaking at the ceremony, Joseph explained that the Welcome Pole was the end result of an initiative by local RCMP to build relationships with the community.

That initiative was possible thanks to funding from BC’s Civil Forfeiture Office that the detachment received in early 2023 to conduct community outreach, and working with Squamish youth was how they chose to direct the almost $10,000 in funding.

“The goal of the project set out for Squamish RCMP members to help build better relationships and resilience within the community, specifically with the Squamish youth,” explained Joseph.

“The project had officers connect and build rapport with youth from the community, which in the end built long-lasting relationships. The youth were also able to learn the traditional ways of carving from a distinguished local Nation artist, Art Harry (see Appl-tun).”

During the ceremony, Harry shared stories of how they had carved the pole, and challenges that came up and were addressed as work progressed.

It was quite the journey: The project started in November 2023 with a ceremony to honour the more than three-metre-tall cedar log that was used for the project. Every Thursday for months, youth from the Don Ross Secondary School Indigenous Youth Program came to the Squamish RCMP detachment on Finch Drive to learn the culture of carving the pole.

“Students and members were able to build their own mallets, learn how to sharpen the tools, and learned basic carving skills of the various shapes on the pole. It was also important to share meals after the work was completed each week,” said Joseph.

“We all learned respect, connection, and communication skills with each other during the carving of the pole. The Squamish Welcome Pole is placed at the front of the Squamish detachment to showcase the collaborative efforts of all involved,” he said.

“The Welcome Pole Project is one way for us to contribute to reconciliation; we can build trust within the community, the youth, and build a pathway forward. It is important to the members in the Sea to Sky to build strong relationships where everyone is treated with dignity, respect, and compassion.”

The grant for the project was secured by Staff Sgt. Gareth Bradley, who told the Squamish Chief that carving projects with Squamish youth was something of a passion project, as he had previously worked with them to carve a canoe in 2017.

“Working with Art [Harry] and carving paddles, we wanted to do something bigger. From a community perspective we wanted to get the members involved and the youth, and teach them the skills of some elders and bring everything all together into one thing,” he said.

“The detachment, for me, should be a shared place where people are welcome to come and feel safe, and that’s what the pole represents. In doing the work with the kids we build lasting relationships and meaningful connections with them.”

During the ceremony, attendees heard words from members of the Nation, Squamish RCMP, District of Squamish, and the Squamish Men’s Shed Society, who all talked about the importance of building relationships and achieving goals.

The Welcome Pole, now unveiled, is situated in the foyer of the Squamish RCMP detachment on Finch Drive.

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