Each morning, students, staff and parents at Cleveland Elementary School are greeted with a welcome from the carved figure that now stands proud at the front of the school. Gripping a paddle in one hand and holding up the other hand in welcome, the cedar figure looks down in support upon those who enter the school grounds.
"The welcome figure is just that – it is here to welcome you and let you know how many people here care about you," said Latash (Maurice) Nahanee to Cleveland Elementary students who were gathered to celebrate the completion of the welcome figure. "It lets the parents also know that the school district is here for you."
Latash, a Squamish Nation elder, was the lead carver and worked alongside apprentice, Chris Fyfe, for 18 months on the project. The tree was donated by a student's family and a blessing ceremony took place before harvesting the tree. Throughout the carving process, every class had a chance to participate in weekly carving sessions. Students learned about traditional carving methods, the significance of the figure, and local Squamish traditions. It was an excellent learning opportunity for students, staff and the community. Over several months throughout the spring, the log of cedar began to take shape into a human figure. Throughout the summer, the welcome figure was installed outside of the front of the school.
With school back in session this fall, a traditional Coast Salish ceremony was held with the entire school.
"This ceremony separates the carver from the piece.," said Wes Nahanee, Squamish Nation member. Today we are putting life back into this log. It looks after us and we look after it."