A totem pole trail is in the making as the Sealaska Heritage Institute during the past weekend began raising the first 12 of 30 poles that will line the Juneau waterfront at Overstreet Park.
On Saturday morning a ceremony will be held at Heritage Plaza to dedicate the clans and tribes whose crests are depicted on the poles carved by Southeast Alaska Native artists, and to celebrate the installation of the Kootéeyaa Deiyí.
The ceremony will also serve to unveil “Faces of Alaska,” a new installation of five, four-foot bronze masks that represent the diversity of the Alaska Native cultures including the Inupiat, Yup’ik, Alutiiq and Athabascan, and a combined mask for the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian, according to the SHI.
“We have a lot of pride in our community, it’s a statement about Southeast Alaska Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian and the pride we have that were still here,” said Ricardo Worl, communications director for SHI. “It’s shifting the feel of downtown Juneau to something more authentic and it’s a symbol of a new era for our community.”
TJ Young, a Haida carver from Hydaburg, spent the last eight months carving two of the poles to be included in the Kootéeyaa Deiyí. He and his brother Joe Young will be heading to Juneau this weekend to witness the ceremony.
Young, who has been carving for 20 years, said being asked to carve two poles was an honor. Young said though he is not Tlingit he was asked to carve a pole depicting the Tlingit Ravens crest to represent and pay homage to some of the clans that went extinct. His second pole represents the Haida Ravens crests.
“It’s an honor to be trusted to do a totem pole from a different nation, I took that as a badge of honor,” he said.
Young said one of his favorite aspects of being a part of this project was working with the apprentices that spent time learning the craft alongside him.
“That’s a really important part of carving, about the culture and the art and tradition — you have to train people to keep the knowledge alive,” he said.
Young said he’s excited to finally see the poles all come together, and it feels special to see totem poles be celebrated and welcomed by the community of Juneau. He said that wasn’t always the case growing up in Southeast Alaska.
“When we grew up there were no poles being raised in the communities, no poles being carved,” he said. “We wish this kind of stuff would happen when we were kids, but they were very few and far between. We do feel it’s a privilege to do what we get to do now and it’s an honor to be a part of this project.”
Nicholas Galanin, a Tlingit carver from Sitka agreed, and said he couldn’t recall a time when this many totem poles had been raised all at once. Galanin spent since last June carving a pole that represents the Kaagwaantaan clan, his father’s clan.
“It’s going to be monumental,” he said. “It’s incredible to see this now in our lifetime — I don’t know the last time there has been this many poles in progress going up at once, it’s pretty major.”
Galanin has been carving for more than 25 years, first doing projects with his father, uncle and other local carvers in Sitka as a young kid. The pole included in this project will be his second raised in Juneau. The first, the Yanyeidi Wolf totem pole, was raised at Savikko Park in June of 2018.
Galanin said he’s excited to come to Juneau once again, and celebrate all the work of the many artists who contributed to both his pole and the others to be raised.
“It’s definitely a monumental vision, it’s an honor to be a part of it,” he said. “I think of it as life work and there’s a lot of reasons that made this process special to me personally. To represent and honor the Kaagwaantaan clan and honor them as best I can through the work, it’s a dream.”
The carvers whose poles are to be raised include TJ and Joe Young of Hydaburg, Jon Rowan of Klawock, David Robert Boxley of Metlakatla, Nathan and Stephen Jackson of Saxman, Nicholas Galanin and Tommy Joseph of Sitka, Robert Mills of Kake, Mick Beasley of Juneau, and Haida artist Warren Peele.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at email@example.com or (651)-528-1807.
Know & Go
What: Kootéeyaa Deiyí (Totem Pole Trail) dedication ceremony.
Where: Heritage Plaza by the Sealaska Heritage Arts Campus.
When: Dance at 11 a.m., formal ceremony at 12 p.m. Saturday, April 22.