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This healing totem pole was erected in 2012. Twenty carvers worked on the totem, including master carver Wayne Price of Haines, AK. (Dave Croft/CBC) The sight of two teens climbing on a healing totem pole has led a Whitehorse man to action.

Mark Rutledge is asking local community leaders to put up signs explaining its significance. ‘When I see sacred items that are being disrespected, I will stand up for that,’ says Mark Rutledge, who is Ojibwa from Ontario. (Dave Croft/CBC) "It’s a great looking totem, it’s beautiful. They [visitors] probably know its First Nations, but they’re left with questions that should be answered."

The 11-metre totem was erected on the Whitehorse waterfront next to the White Pass building five years ago , as part of a project by the Northern Cultural Expressions Society.

Each wood chip in the healing totem represents a person impacted by the residential school experience. Visitors Marian Schwaiger and Rose Perrin were happy to run into Mark Rutledge at the totem pole, so he could explain its meaning. (Dave Croft/CBC) Rutledge, who is Ojibwa from Ontario, says people sometimes notice he is First Nations and ask him about the totem’s history or meaning.

Rose Perrin was glad he was on hand during her visit.

"He was able to give me the story behind this totem pole and then we got talking about how important it is to have the information because it leads to shared understanding and education." Actions ‘really disrespecting First Nations culture’

The other day, Rutledge had a less pleasant experience. He saw two teenagers climbing on the sacred pole.

"I was actually flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe that I saw that," Radke said.

He asked the people to get off the totem, but regrets not speaking to them further.

"In hindsight I should have actually explained to them why climbing on this totem is not a good idea. And that you’re really disrespecting First Nations culture."

Rutledge believes local First Nations, municipal, and territorial leaders are now aware of the need for signage and he hopes something will come of it.

​"I’m hoping that the powers to be — the politicians and the First Nation[s] governments — can come together and start talking about how are we going to proceed form here. We definitely need signage."

With files from Dave Croft and Roch Shannon Fraser

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