Event to be live streamed, everyone welcome
Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will hold a ceremony in April to celebrate the raising of 12 totem poles along the Juneau waterfront and the installation of bronze masks on the SHI arts campus honoring the five major Native groups of Alaska.
The projects, Kootéeyaa Deiyí (Totem Pole Trail) and Faces of Alaska, have been years in the making and include work by master artists from Indigenous groups across the state.
“SHI continues its efforts to make Juneau the Northwest Coast arts capital, and I think people will be amazed to see these installations,” said SHI President Rosita Worl. “We can’t wait to unveil them to the public.”
The ceremony is scheduled April 22 at Heritage Plaza by the Sealaska Heritage Arts Campus on Seward St. The event will be live streamed through SHI’s YouTube channel. The ceremony is open to everyone and the community is encouraged to attend.
Totem Pole Trail
The ceremony, scheduled for April 22, will mark the installation of the first 11 of 30 totems for Totem Pole Trail, an initiative launched in 2021 through a $2.9 million grant from the Mellon Foundation. Through the grant, SHI hired 10 Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian artists, including TJ and Joe Young of Hydaburg, Jon Rowan of Klawock, David R. Boxley of Metlakatla, Nathan and Stephen Jackson of Saxman, Nicholas Galanin and Tommy Joseph of Sitka, Robert Mills of Kake and Mick Beasley of Juneau. Haida artist Warren Peele was also hired to make a totem pole for the project in 2022 through a separate grant from the Denali Commission. Peele’s pole will also be among the first 11 poles installed.
The Mellon grant also funded apprentices to mentor with each of the artists.
“We discovered through this process that there aren’t a lot of master artist Northwest Coast totem pole carvers. SHI’s Native Artist Committee considers a person a master artist totem pole carver if he/she has carved at least five totem poles. With the limited number of master totem pole carvers, the mentor-apprentice arrangement became a vital component of the project,” Worl said.
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.
Faces of Alaska
The ceremony will also mark the unveiling of Faces of Alaska, a spectacular monumental art installation at the Sealaska Heritage Arts Campus featuring bronze masks that represent Alaska’s five major Native groups, including the Inupiat, Yup’ik, Alutiiq and Athabascan. The fifth group will be a combination of the Southeast tribes, Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian, because their cultures are very similar.
Master artists from each of Alaska’s five cultural groups were selected to create four-foot monumental bronze masks that are representative of their region’s artistic traditions. The Faces of Alaska art pieces positioned on pedestals will provide visitors to the arts campus a centerpiece for discussion and education on Alaska’s different cultural groups. The installation will serve as a gateway to Alaska, introducing other regions and the diversity of the state’s Native cultures.
“I saw Juneau and Southeast Alaska as the gateway to the rest of Alaska, and I wanted to introduce visitors and local residents to the other Indigenous groups of the state. Additionally, other groups of Alaska Natives have settled in Juneau and Southeast Alaska, and I wanted to make them feel welcome in our region,” Worl said.
The pieces were made by artists Perry Eaton (Sugpiaq/Alutiiq), Lawrence Ahvakana (Iñupiaq), Drew Michael (Yup’ik) and Kathleen Carlo-Kendall (Koyukon Athabaskan). Tsimshian artist John Hudson made a bronze mask that represents the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian.
About Totem Poles
Northwest Coast art evolved over several thousand years in the rich and complex Indigenous societies of the Pacific Northwest of North America. From the earliest contact with Westerners, wood carvings, weavings and other cultural pieces depicting Northwest Coast art were aggressively collected by museums and visitors and acclaimed as one of the most distinctive and unique art traditions in the world.
One of the most widely-known art forms within this tradition is the totem pole (kootéeyaa in Lingít, gyáa’aang in X̱aad Kíl, and p’tsaan in Sm’algya̱x). While its exact origins are unclear, scholars have traced the earliest known examples to the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian of Southeast Alaska, Haida Gwaii, and northern British Columbia.
The carved figures depict crests, spirits and designs that symbolize the rich history of clan origins and migrations and significant ancestors who made lasting contributions for their descendants. Carved exclusively of red cedar, totem poles are raised on important occasions such as marriages, the construction of a new clan house or the transfer of historic names and titles from one generation to the next. “Shame poles” were also carved if an individual or clan grievously offended another clan.
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.
CONTACT: Kathy Dye, SHI Communications and Publications Deputy Director, 907.321.4636, email@example.com.
Caption: An artist puts finishing touches on a totem pole made by Nicholas Galanin and his apprentices in Sitka for Totem Pole Trail. Photo by Bethany Goodrich, courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute. Note: news outlets are welcome to use this photo for coverage of this story. For a higher-res version, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.