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Victory Through Honour: the Past and the Present

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Located at Brock Hall in the University of British Columbia, the replica of totem pole Victory Through Honour is one of the most symbolic outdoor artworks at UBC. It has been given multiple layers of meaning by various groups of people that have been or still is living on this ancestral land of the indigenous peoples. Throughout the course of this essay, I will discuss how the totem pole Victory Through Honour represents the resistance of the indigenous people to political and social challenges, the unity the diverse student body, the memory of the past to reminds us to maintain harmony among all groups of people living and staying on this territory. According to article “Victory Through Honour pole” on the UBC Life Blog (2018), the original totem pole was carved by Ellen Neel and raised during the 1948 homecoming football game.

During the 1970s, the pole was relocated near the Student Union Building as a gift to the Alma Mater Society. Yet, it was later severely damaged due to weathering and vandalism around the year 2000. (“Victory Through Honour pole”, 2018) Carver Calvin Hunt and Merv Child of Alert Bay dedicated to produce an identical pole and completed the an exact replication of Victory Through Honour in 2004, which is the pole we see today. (“Victory Through Honour pole”, 2018) The still standing totem pole holds various meanings to different groups of people. In 1934, the name Thunderbirds chosen by UBC students for the varsity sports teams gradually gained its popularity. (“Victory Through Honour pole”, 2018) However, it is not until 1948 when the representatives of the local aboriginal community, creator of Victory Through Honour Ellen Neel, her husband Edward Neel, and Chief William Scow, officially granted permission for UBC to use Thunderbird as its mascot. (“Victory Through Honour”, n. d. ) Due to the event in which the pole and the Thunderbird symbol was given to the University at the same time, the Victory Through Honour pole signifies the hospitality of the historically known Kwicksutaineuk people, their cooperation with the University, and the school spirit of UBC students. Victory Through Honour further embodies the long term hardships endured by the indigenous groups on this land. European colonialism intensively erased the culture of indigenous populations by imposing numerous unjust laws. When the original artwork was raised by the indigenous community members, any sort of gatherings of indigenous people, including a traditional gift-giving ceremony, potlatch, was prohibited by the Canadian government until the federal law was changed in 1951 (Vancouver Sun, Jun 1, 2017).

During the time when practicing one’s own cultural gatherings and traditions is considered illegal, the raising of Victory Through Honour and the engagement of the University is a necessary act of civil disobedience. By gathering at the UBC homecoming event, the indigenous peoples were showing that they are in alliance with the university to protest for their basic human rights. As current dwellers of the indigenous territory, one must acknowledge the importance to preserve the cultural treasures we have today and understand the land beneath our feet. Victory Through Honour, carrying its glorious battle wounds from historical challenges, survived from the injustice of previous rulers and deprivation of cultural heritage and created a place in which stories are told to remind people of how much the people on this land have come. Victory is accomplished through honour when the groups of people have been regarded and have an influence over their communities. One should always be reminded of the peaceful relationship between the University and the land of indigenous peoples.

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