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28 October 2014
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Salford Sioux

Totem recall

EXCLUSIVE by Richard Turner
It’s 30 foot long, weighs 2½ tons and, according to Salford’s only full blood native American Indian, is full of 'spiritual energy'. We take a look at the only true totem pole in the UK, soon to take its place in Salford Quays.

Paul Starr with the Salford totem pole
"Spiritual" - Paul Starr

Salford's links with native American Indians date back more than century to 1887 when the legendary Buffalo Bill brought his Wild West Show to Salford along with 97 Sioux warriors.

One of their number, Charging Thunder, even stayed behind to raise a family in Manchester, and two of his grandchildren Rita Parr of Gorton and Gary Williams of Holmes Chapel have recently been traced.

Now, moves to commemorate those links are about to move a step closer with the return to Salford of a genuine North American Indian totem pole which once stood in Salford Quays in recognition of the city's trading links with Canada.

Spiritual energy

Totem pole

The Salford totem pole has been given the approval of the city's only full-blood native American resident, Paul Starr, a Cree Indian whose tribe originates from an area between Ontario and Saskatchewan.

Mr Starr - who came to Salford from Canada in the 1960s - said the totem pole is full of ‘spiritual energy.’

"You can feel it just standing here," he said. "A totem pole has an important role in Indian culture. It's the spiritual place in the village, somewhere where you can go and pray, much like a church.

"And of course the bigger the totem pole, the more impressive it would be to visiting tribes," added Mr Starr.

"It shows things in their rightful order. At the top, you have the eagle, who is all powerful, and soars above everything. The eagle is the most important. Further down you have the whale and the raven, the messenger. And then right at the bottom - is man!"

Restoration

Cllr Steve Coen with the Salford totem pole
'Delighted': Cllr Steve Coen

The driving force behind plans to bring the totem pole back to Salford is self-styled Indian 'tracker' Councillor Steve Coen, who has studied Salford's links with native American Indians:

"It’s fantastic", he said. "The first thing was to get it back in the safe hands of Salford. Now we’re going to have it restored before finding a suitable location for it on the Quays."

The totem pole was created almost 40 years ago by Kwakiutl Indians of British Columbia in Canada. Their carvings depict the eagle or Thunderbird at its head - the most powerful of all Indian spirits -  along with carvings of a killer whale, raven and an Indian chief.

Salford City Council is hoping to involve schoolchildren in its restoration and use the structure as a totem of learning and cultural understanding.

History

The totem pole was commissioned by Robert Stoker, chairman of Manchester Liners, and shipped to England in the summer of 1969 when it was donated to shipping company OOCL.

For years, it stood outside their offices at Furness House close to the Manchester Ship Canal before it was chopped down in 2005 because of its deterioration.

After months of investigation, Cllr Coen tracked the totem pole down and arranged to have it returned. It’s now lying in a warehouse, just an arrow’s flight from its original home on the Quays, waiting to be brought to life this summer.

Totem facts

Salford's totem pole
As it was: in Salford Quays
  • The totem pole is made from Columbian pine (most poles were of red cedar)
  • The carving of totem poles is an important part of the culture of the native American tribes who inhabit the coastal regions of British Columbia
  • The totem pole is carved with animals and figures important in Kwakiutl culture. These include the eagle representing the noble and omnipotent ruler of the skies, the killer whale representing the master of the seas, and the raven representing the messenger. At the base is a Chief holding coppers, symbolising wealth and power
  • Totem poles are powerful and distinctive cultural statements, the meanings of the different symbols represented on the poles being related to the myths and history of the particular tribe
  • The carving of poles went into decline from the late 19th century as the rituals of the native tribes were attacked by missionaries and the government
  • A renaissance of wood-carving skills occurred in the second half of the 20th century as part of a wider reassertion of Indian culture
last updated: 08/01/07
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