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‘Art that’s coming home:’ Totem pole carved by inmates returning to First Nation


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totem pole in Prince Albert

PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — Darlene Stonechild is preparing to bring a piece of her family’s history home to her southeastern Saskatchewan First Nation.

Her brother, Dale Stonechild, a prolific artist known primarily for his paintings, is one of the carvers behind a totem pole that has stood for almost 45 years on a bank of the North Saskatchewan River in Prince Albert.

The pole was created and gifted to the city by a group of inmates from Saskatchewan Penitentiary in 1975, but has to be removed because the base is rotting and it’s no longer safe.

Judy MacLeod Campbell, the city’s arts and cultural director, told paNOW that cultural protocols were followed to decide what to do with the damaged pole.

Having been told that the lead carver, James Sutherland, had likely died, and without contact information for his family, the city next consulted with elders and knowledge keepers from the Indigenous community.

It was ultimately decided the pole would be laid to rest near the penitentiary. When Darlene Stonechild learned of that plan, she reached out to McLeod Campbell and told her she’d like to bring the artifact back to the Okanese First Nation on behalf of her brother.

“So we worked together and we worked it out,” Stonechild said. “We can display it in Okanese where his home is. This is his homeland, where his relatives are, and his grandchildren can be proud of something.”

Stonechild talks to her brother, who is in prison in Abbotsford, B.C., regularly over the phone and said he approved the plan.

His sister learned about the history of the landmark from him. During the 1970s, when her brother and Sutherland were incarcerated at Saskatchewan Penitentiary, there was no recreational programming.

“So what the people of (Prince Albert) would do, they would come into the penitentiary and they’d have picnics and barbecues and play football, and soccer and play cards with the inmates,” she said.

The activities were hugely important to the prisoners, she said.

“I think they kept them sane at a time when nobody was there. Their families weren’t there.”

As a symbol of their appreciation, some of the inmates — led by Sutherland with Stonechild as his main assistant — carved the totem pole as a gift to the city.

Stonechild is responsible for much of the painting, including the wings of the thunderbird that crowns the pole.

Darlene Stonechild said her brother was always interested in art, but wasn’t able to use his gifts to their full potential early in life. He and his siblings spent much of their childhood and adolescence attending the Gordon Indian Residential School in Punnichy, Sask.

Stonechild said her brother has struggled with the life-long effects of the physical, sexual and emotional abuse he endured there.

In 2013, he was convicted of manslaughter in the death of a Regina man during an argument when both men had been drinking.

Stonechild, 65, has six years left in his 15-year sentence. Even if he were to be released on parole, it’s unlikely the conditions would allow him to leave B.C., said his sister, so it’s unclear if and when he’ll be able to see the totem pole displayed in his home community.

She is planning to come to Prince Albert to get the pole in September. There is to be a ceremony as it is taken down and it will then be transported by flatbed truck to the Okanese First Nation near Balcarres, about 85 kilometres northeast of Regina.

The Stonechild family and the First Nation will cover the cost of the move.

Stonechild said she wants to emphasize the gratitude she feels towards the city of Prince Albert for letting her take the totem pole and looks forward to displaying it in her yard.

“For myself and my relatives – Dale’s relatives – it’s a lot of pride. It’s his art that’s coming home, a piece of history, his history is coming home.”

Alison Sandstrom paNOW, The Canadian Press

Storytelling is in our DNA. We provide credible, compelling multimedia storytelling and services in English and French to help captivate your digital, broadcast and print audiences. As Canada’s national news agency for 100 years, we give Canadians an unbiased news source, driven by truth, accuracy and timeliness.

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Spanish museum returns 2 paintings looted by Nazis to Poland

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MADRID (AP) — A museum in northwest Spain returned two 15th-century paintings to Polish officials on Wednesday after it was determined that they had been looted by Nazi German forces during World War II.

The paintings “Mater Dolorosa” (Mother of Sorrows) and “Ecce Homo” were handed over to a delegation from Poland’s culture ministry. According to Spain’s Museum of Pontevedra, the works were originally believed to be by Dieric Bouts, a Flemish master born in the Dutch town of Haarlem, but now they are attributed to a member of his school or group.

The museum said that in 2020 Polish officials made it aware that the works had been looted by Nazi forces. The museum quickly decided to send them back to Poland, but the completion of official permits for the transfer had delayed it until now.

Nazi forces stole the works from the Czartoryski collection in Gołuchów when the city was occupied by the German military in WWII, Polish officials said. They appeared in Madrid in 1973 and had been in the Pontevedra museum since 1994 when they were acquired among over 300 works purchased from a Spanish private collector.

Poland saw much of its cultural patrimony destroyed or looted during the country’s wartime occupation by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and about 500,000 items remain missing.

The country has been making efforts to recover as much as possible. The Culture Ministry has a division for looted art that keeps a database of missing objects and scours foreign collections and auctions. When they locate a looted Polish painting, book or other object, they inform the law enforcement officials of that country.


AP writer Vanessa Gera in Warsaw contributed to this report.

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Nominate an Alberta artist or arts collective for 2023 Distinguished Artist Award

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Nominate by March 8, 2023

Since the program’s launch in 2005, 23 Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Distinguished Artists have been awarded this title, along with a $30,000 prize, a two-week residency at the Banff Centre’s Leighton Artist Studios, and a profile video on the artist. The awards were founded to highlight and celebrate Alberta’s rich artistic talent – and we know there is so much to celebrate here!

The Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Distinguished Artists have impacted a wide range of arts disciplines provincially, nationally and internationally. Our Distinguished Artists include architect Douglas Cardinal – puppeteer Ronnie Burkett – visual artists Jane Ash Poitras, Alex Janvier, Peter von Tiesenhausen – sculptor Katie Ohe – composer John Estacio – dance choreographer Vicki Adams Willis – sopranist Frances Ginzer – authors Aritha van Herk, Rudy Wiebe – poet Alice Major, and theatre collectives One Yellow Rabbit and Old Trout Puppet Workshop – plus others! Check out our profiles of Alberta’s Distinguished Artists at

The Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Distinguished Artist Award is Alberta’s most prestigious recognition of outstanding achievement in the arts. This award recognizes:

  • The highest degree of artistic excellence.
  • Career achievement; and/or significant body of work; and/or breakthrough contribution, including pushing the boundaries of the art from.
  • Significant impact on the arts in Alberta.

Help us celebrate Alberta’s artists by nominating one or more artists for the 2023 Distinguished Artist Award. If you have nominated someone in the past who has not yet been recognized we welcome your updated re-submission.

This award has lifted our artistic spirit and propelled our work through the affirmation of our peers and our audience, and it has humbled us to be counted among such amazing talent – in this way we are driven to work harder and to reach further, to push the limits of art in Alberta.

The Old Trout Puppet Workshop Founders 2013 Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Distinguished Artist Award

Nominate by March 8, 2023. 


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