A rare bit of sun shone down on Haida artist Lyle Campbell this week as he, his family and a gathering of physically distanced observers raised a memorial pole in honour of his late mother Alice Campbell.
Tuesday marked the sixth anniversary of Alice Campbell’s death, and the pole is the first one that has been raised in Prince Rupert in more than three decades.
For Lyle Campbell, the window of clear weather was appropriate.
“I really feel that the creator is smiling down upon us and my mom is sitting beside him and they’re both happy,” said Campbell, as rocks and dirt were shovelled around the base of the pole to keep it in place.
Campbell has spent his life carving poles and creating other forms of Indigenous art, including jewelry and prints, but his most recent work is perhaps his most personal.
Alice Campbell, the matriarch of his family, was born in Haida Gwaii, where she met Lyle’s father before moving to Prince Rupert. She became mother to Lyle and his three siblings despite being told that she would never have children.
Lyle described her as a kind soul who always gave “Haida hints,” suggesting she would love to have a pole created in her memory one day.
“I’d be visiting her and she’d be looking over her shoulder out into the yard,” Campbell said. “She’d say, ‘Oh I’m just wondering what my pole is going to look like right there one day.’ So we’re basically fulfilling a life wish for her.”
Campbell began working on the pole on April 10 with a hand-picked team of artists from Haida Gwaii. They began work only a few weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic began, so the team worked in isolation for nearly four months in the workshop outside Campbell’s house.
For the artists, honouring a strong, Indigenous woman was worth the sacrifice.
“When we lift up our women, we lift up our nations,” said Eric Grey, a Tsimshian carver who assisted Campbell with the project. “That’s what Lyle is doing. By lifting up his mother like this … he’s lifting up all the women.”
The pole now stands about 10 metres tall in Campbell’s front yard, bearing the crests of his mother’s people.