Council to mull ethics of faux poles

Langley City Council will discuss the removal of a pair of imitation totem poles from Seawall Park.

On Tuesday, members of Langley City Council will discuss the removal of a pair of imitation totem poles from Seawall Park over concerns that they represent inappropriate cultural appropriation.

Because it is also an issue of public safety, the council will likely not take any action on the issue.

In September 2020, a Langley resident sent an email to the Dismantling Systemic Racism Advisory Committee, which was new at the time, urging members to take a closer look at the poles made by a local artist and what they represent.

In a memo to the city council, Councilmember Craig Cyr said he spoke with the original carver of the poles, who has agreed that the poles he carved in 1975 should come down, albeit “for several reasons not necessarily related to cultural appropriation.”

With the passage of time, the poles have endured an onslaught of wind and sea spray and as a result have decayed on the exterior and interior.

Cyr said the city’s public works department will assess the best path forward to remove the poles that have become a hazard.

As Cyr pointed out in his memo, a white carver made the Langley totem poles at a time when it was illegal for members of the Snohomish Tribe to do so. The American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed three years later in 1978, which restored the rights of indigenous peoples to practice their religion.

“It is important to understand that the Story Poles at Seawall Park have inadvertently harmed Langley’s relations with indigenous peoples,” Cyr wrote. “This was made clear to me in conversations with local tribal members as well as tribal leadership.”

The committee will consider how to redress the harm caused and will have a recommendation for the council at a future meeting.

The upcoming city council meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 22.