NEWS
04/01/2017 13:50 EDT | Updated 04/02/2018 01:12 EDT

Totem pole raised at UBC honours First Nations victimized by residential schools

VANCOUVER — A 17-metre totem pole carved by a Haida Nation hereditary chief is being raised at the University of British Columbia this afternoon.

It's to honour the victims and survivors of Canada's residential school system.

Master carver James Hart says indigenous artists from across Canada contributed to carving the pole, recognizing the extent of the torment that the schools inflicted.

The Reconciliation Pole, carved from a 800-year-old red cedar tree on B.C.'s north coast, is marked by thousands of copper nails representing the thousands of indigenous children who died in residential schools.

The pole is located at the heart of the Vancouver campus, at the future site of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre that is slated to open in the 2017-2018 academic year.

Elder Barney Williams says the raising of the pole is a celebration of indigenous peoples' strength and resilience for having survived a school system marred by physical, sexual and mental abuse.

Williams says he hopes the Reconciliation Pole sparks discussion and teaches all Canadians about the dark history.

"As a country we need to reconcile, because this is not just a First Nations' problem, it's a Canadian problem," he said in an interview.