THE UNITY POLE “STORY”
Ojibway artist Kris Nahrgang guides us through a rich story of symbols, which begins with the turtle at the bottom and culminates with the eagle at the top of the pole. What follows is an overview of Kris’s artistic and spiritual quest for “unity”, from the “bottom-up”.
At the base, the turtle – representing Mother Earth, is a direct reference to indigenous creation stories. The turtle is rooted at the bottom of the pole and is the foundation of the pole’s story. Holding the weight of the other images and allowing the story to build.
The Canadian black bear – representing “family” and on a larger scale our country’s culture, is depicted beating a drum with feathers attached to it. Like the sound of a drumming heartbeat that a child first hears in his mother’s womb, the drum celebrates the heartbeat of our community and our connection to family and Mother Earth. The feathers – a symbol of healing, are painted to represent the various cultures in our community and the need for healing in our beating hearts.
3. OTTER, LOON & FISH
Depicted above the bear with a beating drum is a swimming otter and a diving loon scattering fish – their source of nourishment. Fish are not only a staple in many indigenous cultures’ diets but in many other cultures too. They are important because they feed us, nourish us, and by sustaining our lives they look after us. This is meant to show the importance of harmony and working together as a group and also illustrates the beautiful resources we have in Canada. The movements of these creatures emphasize the need for groups to work together to survive in today’s trying times.
The mystical, magical and elusive howling wold, sits atop the conflict of the story illustrated below and is depicted howling his prayer of hope.
5. MAPLE LEAFS & BEAVER
The wolf’s prayer rises upwards through two Canadian symbols: the maple leaf and the beaver. The beaver is Canada’s national animal representing everything the fur trade brought to the country including the first beginnings of “good and bad” for the indigenous people. The maple leaf is the national leaf of Canada. The combination of these two images in the pole’s story also pays tribute to the Canadian National Exhibition’s vintage emblem, which originated in the 1920’s and underscores the fair’s relationship with Canada and its community.
6. EAGLE FEATHER
In indigenous culture, to receive an eagle feather is the highest honour you can obtain as a person – it’s given only when you do great things, or when you’ve done something for your people. The feather is painted white to represent healing. In effect, the eagle feather depicted symbolizes healing trickling down the pole bringing with it reflection and balance.
The spiral is painted the four colours of the community – red, white, black and yellow – reinforcing the story-line of the pole, calling to action a need to come together.
The eagle symbolizes a messenger that can fly between the spiritual and mutable worlds. The eagle here is shown passing along messages to the Creator by absorbing the red power-lines through the spiral. The eagle is also shown sending blue power-lines back through the side of the pole.
9. RED & BLUE PAINTED POWER LINES
Power lines run along the side of the pole. The red painted power line, symbolizing hostile energy, flows through the story of the pole before travelling up through the eagle. While the blue painted power line, representing balance and calm, flows down from the eagle in the hope that cooler heads will prevail in times of conflict to help usher in an era of harmony throughout Canada and its peoples.