media release

Totem pole to honour restorative justice pioneer

December 01, 2011

Brenda Morrison, 778.782.7627;
Robert Gordon, 778.782.4305; 604.418.4660;
Brian Burtch, 778.782.438;
Tani Kinney, asst warden services, Ferndale, 604.820.5755
Marianne Meadahl, PAMR, 778.782.3210;


Inmates at Mission’s Ferndale Correctional Institution are paying tribute to Simon Fraser University criminologist Liz Elliott, a long-time champion of restorative justice, with a traditional totem pole carved in her honour.

The pole will be raised in SFU's School of Criminology during a ceremony led by First Nations elders on Monday Dec. 5, beginning with a blessing at 10 a.m. in the Saywell Hall atrium (in front of the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology). The pole will be raised on the second floor concourse of Saywell Hall in front of the school.

Elliott died of cancer in September at the age of 54. Well known and respected in the school and throughout the country’s corrections community, she gave her support to countless inmates during more than three decades of activism and outreach.

Those at Ferndale knew her well. Elliott was ardently involved with the Alternatives to Violence project and a weekly reflection and dialogue circle. Both were guided by restorative justice principles, which focus on repairing harm and restoring individual and community relationships affected by a criminal act.

Her passing created an immediate void in those initiatives, but her fellowship has attracted the commitment of students at SFU now following in her footsteps, says school director Rob Gordon.

"The astonishing numbers of undergraduates and graduates who have taken courses with Liz is a fine testament to her achievements and to the high esteem with which she was held,” says  Gordon. “We'll do our best but, frankly, she is irreplaceable."

Elliott and her family lived down the street from the institution. “Supporting inmates and correctional reform was her passion,” says colleague Brenda Morrison, who co-directed SFU’s Centre for Restorative Justice with Elliott. “She went where others feared to tread, with some of our most vulnerable citizens, and touched their lives and their hearts.”

The Ferndale totem pole is one of several tributes to Elliott. SFU’s School of Criminology and the Correctional Service of Canada hosted the first annual Liz Elliott Memorial Lecture and Dialogue at Vancouver’s Wosk Centre for Dialogue in mid-November. U.S. RJ pioneer Howard Zehr of Eastern Mennonite University delivered the inaugural address.

The event will be held annually in conjunction with Restorative Justice Week.

A graduate scholarship in her name is also being established at SFU. "We will do our level best to ensure that the spirit of Liz Elliott continues to frame the dialogues about the social justice issues that she held most dear,” Gordon says.

“The annual memorial lecture will move her ideas into the public domain. The totem pole will be a constant reminder of those ideas, and the graduate student scholarship will provide support for the next generation of researchers and advocates."

Last fall, the Correctional Services of Canada honored Elliott with an award for being a “driving force” behind the country’s restorative justice movement.

Backgrounder: The pole

The pole – a fallen cedar from the 2006 Stanley Park storm – was selected by Ferndale elder Alex Paul and gifted by the T’slei Waututh First Nations. A pair of inmates began carving it last spring. When it was nearly complete, and just three days before her death, Elliott and her family had a chance to view it.

The carvers worked with corrections official Mel Huntinghawk and other inmates to capture the right elements. “The totem pole is a symbolic reminder of Liz’s lasting legacy,” says Huntinghawk, “and the strength, commitment and dedication that she embodied.”

At the base of the pole a woman holds a bowl of water, representing life and signifying justice and renewal. An eagle representing knowledge, strength and wisdom, wraps the woman. A hummingbird, requested by Elliott, graces the top.

The hummingbird has a special meaning, notes Morrison. “A First Nations parable tells the story of a great forest fire, where all the animals ran for safety. Only one animal turned to face the injustice of the fire, and do what she could, drop by drop - a little hummingbird. That was Liz.”

Elliott chose a hummingbird for the cover of her book, Security with Care, published earlier this year. In the book, she argues that restorative justice needs to be more than a program within the current system.

“I learned that the problems were much deeper than a flawed criminal justice system,” she wrote, “and that our work needed to begin in our relationships with each other and the natural world, and most importantly, with ourselves.”


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