The landmark cross that for years looked out over Cowichan Bay from atop Mount Tzouhalem before being removed last July, has mysteriously returned to its plinth.
Nature Conservancy of Canada spokesperson Lesley Neilson confirmed the cross is back but didn’t have a clue as to who re-attached the religious symbol, or when.
“This cross was reinstalled by unknown parties on the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Chase Woods Nature Preserve without our involvement or permission,” she said.
Cowichan Tribes’ leader also has no idea who or how the cross was replaced.
“No one consulted with us,” said Cowichan Tribes Chief William Squtxulenhuw Seymour. “In order to get the cross to the site with a vehicle they would have to travel through Cowichan Tribes land. Any time someone comes through our land, they should consult with us.”
That didn’t happen. Even so, Seymour is not upset with the return.
“I don’t mind it being there. It’s been there a long time. I think I was a teenager the first time it went up. I missed seeing it.”
Chief Seymour explained it was the elders who carried the original wooden cross up the mountain back in the 1960s.
“The elders had a purpose for it,” he explained. “I don’t know what they were doing, but when you look at the residential schools and the Sixties Scoop, the elders still had enough respect to do something like [erecting the cross]. They literally carried it up on their shoulders.”
A wooden cross had sat on the bluff atop Mount Tzouhalem since the ‘60s after being carried up the mountain as part of a Good Friday stations of the cross Catholic pilgrimage. A number of wooden crosses were replaced as they were vulnerable to weather and vandals. Eventually, a steel cross was installed in the late 1980s.
That metal cross fell during a windstorm in fall 2014, but was recovered and repaired and returned to its location in January 2015. It was cut off from its base in mid July 2021 in an apparent act of vandalism.
“The reality is that some elders put it there; some elders are very religious, and hold a sacred space for the religion of the colonizer,” Cowichan storyteller Jared Qwustenuxun Williams said, noting the cross now brings with it mixed feelings for many.
“It was our Cowichan elders who packed the wooden cross up there in the late ‘60s. Back then there was an amazing community of Christian Hwulmuhw people in Cowichan,” he said. “But now I see it and it breaks my heart.”
To him personally, it’s a symbol of Catholicism, “a religion that nearly destroyed our culture and language. It’s a reminder of the superiority of the one God over the many forgotten gods and myths of Quw’utsun. I feel that it sets a path for our youth that I am uncomfortable with. I believe in forgiveness, but it shows our youth that the god of Christianity has a place in Indigenous lands and history, when it really does not.”
Williams acknowledged that when the elders packed it up the mountain 50 years ago, the cross was seen as a symbol of righteousness.
“I guess I could say, that I with the elders would see it for what it is now, a symbol of oppression,” he said. ““For the sake of our Indigenous culture we need to take back our mountain.”
Some voices on social media have already called for the cross to be replaced by a totem pole, which would have more of a connection to the Valley’s First Nations people.
“Pi’paam, is the true name of the mountain,” Williams said. “Pi’paam was a great frog that saved our people from the flood. We have stories, songs, and words around this legend and the hero Pi’paam. Why would we ever need to put anything atop Pi’paam? Pi’paam is the most magnificent monument, more magnificent than any other we could put in place of that cross.
“So to me, putting nothing there would be the most appropriate.”