The Suncor lobby was transformed into a space for Indigenous ceremony as Suncor employees and community members gathered to join totem pole carver, Klatle-bhi, as he prepared his legacy sea-to-sky totem pole for a temporary rest.

Totem poles—traditional monuments of the Indigenous Peoples of the Pacific Northwest carved from cedar trees—once raised, are meant to stay in place until they naturally decay. But on the occasion that one needs to be moved, it must be done through ceremony.

Klatle-bhi (pronounced Cloth-bay), a Kwakwaka’wakw/Squamish artist, was commissioned by Petro-Canada, proudly owned by Suncor, in 2008 to carve the legacy sea-to-sky totem pole for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. The totem pole was raised in ceremony in the Suncor Energy Centre after the Winter Games, being blessed by representatives of the Four Host First Nations as they transferred the totem pole to representatives of Treaty 7 First Nations Alberta with Klatle-bhi in attendance.

In a similar ceremony on the eve of National Indigenous History Month in June, Klatle-bhi returned to the Suncor Energy Centre to visit his work for the first time since it was raised in the Suncor building, celebrate his work, and participate in the ceremony. However, this time, Klatle-bhi put his work to sleep. Temporarily.

“It’s very surreal to be back,” admits Klatle-bhi. “I see how much farther I have come in my work. The totem pole looks amazing, but my work has evolved so much since then. I get a real sense of gratitude for the opportunity to carve the pole. It really opened the door for me to flourish as an artist.”

The 22-foot-high totem, carved from red cedar, will be removed and placed in temporary storage while the Suncor Energy Centre lobby undergoes renovations.

Growing up, Klatle-bhi had a yearning toward the art of carving. When he was gifted a small set of carving tools, it set something off in him. “I grew up with carving all around me all the time,” Klatle-bhi explains, “I couldn’t control the call.”

Klatle-bhi addresses the crowd in front of the totem pole

Klatle-bhi recalls the time he spent carving the totem pole.

In his distinctive non-traditional style, Klatle-bhi carved the legacy sea-to-sky totem pole to tell the story of how the Indigenous Peoples came to reside in the sea-to-sky country, using the killer whale, the bear, and the thunderbird as symbolic representations. Alongside these symbols, Klatle-bhi included the face of an Olympic athlete, signaling the connection between both the totem pole and the Olympics’ ability to unite people as one.

“The totem pole is a mechanism for bringing people together,” says Klatle-bhi. “I saw the similarities in what the Olympic Games would do.”

Additionally, Klatle-bhi incorporated four faces representing the spirit of different races of people coming together for the Olympics, all of them having their eyes purposely excluded from the carving.

“My grandmother taught me eyes are only for your mind,” Klatle-bhi explains. “In all my years I’ve learned that seeing is not believing,; believing is seeing. Your eyes are only to navigate the physical world, but your spirit and your heart is to navigate life.”

As people gathered in the lobby to witness the “sleep ceremony,” both Suncor employees and community members, leaned over railings from above and gathered on the floor as Blackfoot Elder Casey Eagle Speaker lit a smudge that released a comforting smell of sage throughout the lobby. The smudge was followed with a blessing from Klatle-bhi, and a retreat song in Blackfoot, accompanied with drumming performed by Klatle-bhi, Elder Casey Eagle Speaker and Mike Lickers, Specialist Indigenous Relations Advisor, Suncor.

Klatle-bhi, Mike Lickers, and Elder Casey are singing and drumming in front of the totem pole

Klatle-bhi, Mike Lickers, and Elder Casey Eagle Speaker perform the retreat song in Blackfoot

Learning about Indigenous culture and history is part of Suncor’s Journey of Reconciliation. It reflects our continued transformation both within the organization and through relationships with Indigenous Peoples.

“I’m thankful for what this company did for me, what this totem pole did for people, and what it will continue to do for people for the many years that follow,” Klatle-bhi said as he addressed the attentive crowd.

The ceremony concluded with a final song in Blackfoot to put the totem pole to rest until the renovations are complete, it will then be awoken through a ceremony and raised again.

In 1988, Petro-Canada started supporting the Olympics and Paralympics by way of the Olympic Torch Relay for the Calgary Olympic Games.