Riverbank totem pole headed to Okanese First Nation

The totem pole located near the Prince Albert Historical Museum is scheduled to come down due to rot in that base. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Prince Albert city council has agreed to send the Eaglechild totem pole to Okanese First Nation after it’s removed instead of keeping it in Prince Albert.

Council made the decision on Monday after hearing about a late request from the family of Dale Stonechild, the primary assistant to carver James Sutherland.

The family said Stonechild is very proud of the totem pole, and hoped it could be returned to Okanese, his home community.

“I want to thank (the family) for stepping forward,” Mayor Greg Dionne said during Monday’s council meeting. “To me this is even better now that it’s involved with one of the people who assisted with it and it’s going to be resting at a First Nation.”

The family will pay for the totem pole to be transported to Okanese, which is located northeast of Fort Qu’Appelle.

Stonechild’s sister, Darlene, contacted city administrators after learning about the totem pole through media reports. Judy MacLeod Campbell, Prince Albert’s arts and culture coordinator, said they were surprised to hear from the family, but a bit uncertain about the proper protocol.

They had hoped to contact Sutherland or his family, but those efforts proved fruitless. They viewed this move as a good alternative option, especially after consulting with local Indigenous knowledgekeepers and with Darlene Stonechild.

“You can hear in her voice how passionate she is about doing this for her brother,” MacLeod Campbell said. “That was all positive, but from our end, engaging the local community and finding out what they wanted was really important and then acting on that. I think it’s a positive for sure.”

Council has not set an exact date for removing the totem pole, although they still want it taken down before winter. MacLeod Campbell said they’re waiting to see what dates work best for Stonechild’s family before making any concrete plans.

She added that other options, like a proposal from a former Saskatchewan Penitentiary employee to place the totem pole on display near the Tourism Centre, are not going to happen.

The Eaglechild totem pole was created by inmates at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary, led by James Sutherland, and donated to the City of Prince Albert in November 1975. An inspection in the fall of 2017 revealed significant rotting along the base of the pole, leading to fears it would fall over.

City administrators consulted a number of elders and academic experts, including researchers from the University of British Columbia, to determine their next step.

They were advised to get in touch with the head carver, James Sutherland. MacLeod Campbell said city employees contacted the Saskatchewan Penitentiary on three occasions, but were only able to find out that Sutherland had passed away. The penitentiary was unable to give any information about living relatives.

The city originally had planned on laying the totem pole near St. Mary’s Anglican Church cemetery and the Saskatchewan Penitentiary.