A $2.9 million grant will allow the Sealaska Heritage Institute to commission 10 totem poles to decorate the cruise ship piers and downtown Juneau as part of a totem pole trail beginning in 2023.
The 10 poles planned are just the first wave of a trail that will hopefully one day include as many as 30, said SHI President Rosita Worl.
“Our traditional poles historically dominated the shorelines of our ancestral homelands and told the world who we were,” Worl said in a news release. “It’s fitting that our totems will be one of the first things people see while sailing into Juneau.”
The idea for the project is a recent one, Worl said. It dovetails with SHI and the City and Borough of Juneau’s stated goal of becoming the Northwest Coast art capital of the world.
“It was maybe a year ago I learned somewhere in Canada there’s a similar project, and I thought, ‘We ought to do that here,’” Worl said. “We have identified the master artists carvers. We contacted most all of them.”
Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian master carvers will carve their poles in communities around the Southeast, teaching apprentices the art and providing support for their communities, Worl said. Similarly, house posts in front of the Walter Soboleff Building were also made by acclaimed Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian carvers.
“We walked the waterfront with the mayor and the city manager,“ Worl said. “The city is a critical partner here. Both the city and Sealaska have been very supportive.”
The initial plan was for 20 totem poles, Worl said, but after talking with city officials, they’re expanding the final plan to 30. Now, SHI is working on sourcing additional funding, after the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s initial $2.9 million grant, for the remaining poles, which will expand out from the initial ten.
“We’ll be working from the center out towards the ends,” Worl said. “We’re very fortunate that Sealaska donated the 10 logs. Right now they’re covered in 6 feet of snow.”
And then there was one
Meanwhile, in an arts campus not far from where the 10 totem poles will someday stand, something special is happening in a separate project, Worl said.
A 360-degree totem pole called “Faces of Alaska” with bronze masks representing all of Alaska’s major Native peoples is currently under production, to grace the plaza of the new Sealaska Heritage Arts Campus after its opening, Worl said. Masks are being created for the Alutiiq, Athabascan, Haida, Inupiat, Tlingit, Tsimshian and Yup’ik people, according to SHI.
“That 360 degree pole is really unique. As far as I know only three have been carved and none in Alaska,” Worl said. “It’ll be the first of its kind in Alaska.”
Haida carver T.J. Young is carving the pole, which is intended to be ready in 2022.
“The 360 degree pole will have our four core cultural values. That’s to remind us that it’s these values that sustained us through some very difficult times when our culture was suppressed,” Worl said. “The bronze masks are going to represent the major cultures of Alaska. One of our goals is to promote cross-cultural understanding.”
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.