What We're Reading: Raising Indigenous Art and Stories in Alaska’s Capital

From Mellon Foundation: "Master carvers are working with the Sealaska Heritage Institute to create the Totem Pole Trail—ten sculptures celebrating Indigenous tribes who had been historically excluded from Juneau's monuments. In a sense, it was a controversial statue of William Seward that kickstarted Kootéeya Deiyí, the Totem Pole Trail in Juneau, Alaska."

"Seward was the United States Secretary of State who brokered the purchase of the Alaska territory in 1867, nearly a century before it became a state. His bronze likeness in the capital city gave Rosita Worl, a member of the Tlingit tribe, a big idea."

"Under [Worl's] stewardship, Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) embarked on the Totem Pole Trail. This Mellon Foundation-funded initiative has enlisted nine Indigenous master carvers and their apprentices to initially create ten original totem poles that will be raised throughout the city in 2023. Most of the master carvers are located outside of Juneau, in areas accessible only by boat and with scant economic opportunity; by design, the pole-carving project offers an infusion of capital into local economies, and pays the master carvers and their apprentices a wage."

"Each master carver is partnered with a tribal clan and SHI to develop the themes and stories depicted on the poles. The master carvers make 3-foot miniature models of their pole for review by clan representatives before starting on the final product. Eventually, SHI plans to install 30 such poles in Juneau and along its waterfront; indeed, waterfronts are where totem poles traditionally stand."

"Ricardo Worl adds that such learning opportunities are not only meant for tourists and non-native people. He says that as SHI has met with clan elders to develop pole themes, it became “clear that not all of them knew the stories behind their crests or designs. That’s part of the colonization aspect. Stories were lost. Language was lost. And so [we are] working with them to help research and restructure elements of their clan history.”

Read the full article here.