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Published on May 16, 2022

Charles Joseph’s Residential School Totem Pole returned to its owner

Charles Joseph (born in 1959),* Residential School Totem Pole*, 2014–2016, red cedar, acrylic paint. 1,524 x 762 cm (max. width with wings), 152.4 cm (diam.). Private collection. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière

The imposing Residential School Totem Pole by Charles Joseph, an artist who is a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw people of Canada’s West Coast, has been returned to its owner. It has had pride of place in front of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) since 2017, but the period of its loan has now ended. A meaningful, monumental work, the Totem Pole is a tribute to the Indigenous children—the artist was one of them—who were taken from their families and sent to the residential schools run by religious communities from the late nineteenth century to 1996.

The Residential School Totem Pole was loaned by the artist in 2017, when it served as the starting point for the exhibition La Balade pour la Paix: An Open-air Museum, held during the celebrations marking the 375th anniversary of the founding of the city of Montreal. On May 12, the Museum held a private ceremony at which Kahnawà:ke Elder Otsi’tsaken:ra Patton and artist Charles Joseph, known as Boone, were present to accompany the send-off of the Residential School Totem Pole to its next destination. The Totem Pole has been taken down on Monday, May 16.

“It has been our privilege to have hosted this monumental work—one reminding us of a tragic time in our history—and to have been able to tell its story to Montrealers,” noted Stéphane Aquin, Director of the MMFA. “Its leaving us will not erase the memory of its teachings. The Museum will continue in its mission to show and bring attention to the richness of Indigenous cultures through art.”

The MMFA extends its deepest thanks to its owner for the very special loan of the work, which captured the attention and moved those who passed by it on Sherbrooke Street West in Montreal, as well as visitors to the Museum.

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