Posted By:
Kathy Dye
Kathy Dye
Published On: December 20th, 2021

Project part of vision to make Juneau the Northwest Coast capital of the world

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has secured a grant to commission ten totem poles that will comprise part of Kootéeyaa Deiyí (Totem Pole Trail) along the downtown Juneau waterfront.

The $2.9 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will allow SHI to hire Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian master artists in Juneau and villages across Southeast Alaska to carve the poles, which will be raised in 2023.

The project is part of SHI’s vision to make Juneau the Northwest Coast art capital of the world, said SHI President Rosita Worl.

“Our traditional poles historically dominated the shorelines of our ancestral homelands and told the world who we were. It’s fitting that our totems will be one of the first things people see while sailing into Juneau,” said Worl, who also acknowledged Sealaska for donating the logs.

SHI’s ultimate goal is to commission 30 poles and raise them along the waterfront. The institute is working with the City and Borough of Juneau to site the first ten totems in easements from Main Street along the waterfront by Marine Park.

The priority for the ten poles will be Áak’w Kwáan and T’aaku Kwáan clans. Totem poles representing clans which also settled in the Áak’w village during the historic period will also be included. Haida and Tsimshian poles will also be represented among the first ten poles. Fran Houston, spokesperson for the Áak’w and member of the L’eeneidí and the Yaxtehíttaan and Lillian Petershoare of the Yanyeidí clan have conferred with SHI since the initial planning of the project. The clans will be selecting their designs to be included on the poles in the next few weeks.

The totem poles will be an entry point from the waterfront to Heritage Square, a space encompassing the intersection of Seward and Front Streets and surrounding area that was named by the city in 2018. Each totem pole will feature a corresponding story board that identifies the clan, crests and information related to the artwork.

Through a separate project, SHI commissioned a massive 360-degree totem — an uncommon style that features designs all around the pole, as opposed to totems carved only on the front and sides. That totem, which will represent the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian and was made by Haida carver TJ Young, will be raised in the plaza of the Sealaska Heritage Arts Campus, which is scheduled to open next year in Juneau across from SHI’s Walter Soboleff Building on Seward Street.

The 360-degree totem will be a part of Faces of Alaska — a spectacular monumental art installation featuring bronze masks that represent Alaska’s seven major Native groups, including the Inupiat, Yup’ik, Alutiiq, Athabascan, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding. The Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom that can be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive.

CONTACT: Kathy Dye, SHI Media Specialist, 907.321.4636,

Caption: Area along the downtown Juneau waterfront where ten totem poles will be raised in 2023. SHI is working with the City and Borough of Juneau on placement, which is subject to change from positions shown in the image. The schematic also features a 360-degree totem, which is part of a separate project. News outlets are welcome to use this image for coverage of this story. For a higher res version, contact

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