Three-Sided Pole Speaks to Community, Collaboration and Kinship
Wednesday, April 20, 2022
Haida carver TJ Young (Sgwaayaans) is hard at work creating the first 360-degree totem pole to be raised in Alaska. The Sealaska Cultural Values Pole will stand guard over Heritage Square at the center of the new Sealaska Heritage Arts Campus in downtown Juneau. Young is carving the pole with assistance from his brother, Joe Young and guest carvers David R. Boxley, who is Tsimshian, and Rob Mills, who is Tlingit. He also worked with apprentices Greg Frisby and Andrea Cook, who are both Haida, and sees the project as a community undertaking of working together.
“Traditionally, we’ve been so interwoven over the past thousands of years,” said Young. “Haida people, we got our copper from the Tlingits. We got our mountain goat wool from the Tsimshian on the mainland. We literally shared the same stories. We were and we are still all interconnected.”
“Now we even help each other carve totem poles,” Young added, laughing. “Working together is what it is—not divided like oh, this here is Tlingit, this is Haida, this is Tsimshian. It’s a working together relationship. Same goes for our carving.”
While the collective labor going into this project is not uncommon, the type of project — a 360-degree carved totem pole — is unique. The three-sided pole isn’t just a novelty. It calls back to the three groups of Indigenous people — Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian — that Sealaska represents. The figures depicted throughout are shared across the three cultures: Raven and Eagle, for balance; the man who holds up the world and the strongman ripping apart the sea lion make up the base; a salmon, emphasizing the critical importance of the salmon and its return; the moon and sun, stolen by Raven at the creation of the world; and three watchmen, representing Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people.
The connection to each culture goes even deeper with the three watchmen, Young explains. A different carver — one from each of the three cultures — carved each watchman’s face. Young carved the Haida face himself, while Boxley, who also created Sealaska’s new salmon-egg logo, carved the Tsimshian face. Mills carved the Tlingit face.
Many of the figures also share body parts, in another nod to the interdependence and reciprocal nature of Southeast Alaska’s Native community, he said. Reciprocity is also inherent to the project itself, as the log for the pole was donated by Sealaska. Access to cedar logs needed for projects like totem poles and canoes is limited.
The availability of high-quality logs such as the one used for this project is vital to maintaining the integrity of the art of carving, explained Young. Sealaska provides access to monumental cultural logs for carvers like Young and projects like the new totem trail being created in downtown Juneau by SHI. Applicants should contact Michele Metz at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on the log donation process.
After nearly eight months of carving, the project is set to be complete by late April, with the totem dedication expected to take place at the same time as the dedication of SHI’s new Heritage Square project in downtown Juneau, adjacent to Sealaska’s corporate headquarters. These events are planned to occur during SHI’s Celebration event June 7-11, although a specific date and time has not yet been announced.
Photos below courtesy of Sealaska shareholder Connor Meyer.
Language efforts and the Board Youth Advisor program took center stage at the first board meeting of the year. At a board meeting held on Friday, Jan. 27, Sealaska’s Board of Directors approved a one-time $250,000 increase in funding for language programming from the Sealaska language fund, bringing this year’s contribution to $750,000. The fund, …
As part of our ongoing efforts to connect with shareholders like you on important issues, Sealaska invites you to complete our 2023 Shareholder Engagement Survey. This survey is vital to understanding your priorities and meeting your expectations for how Sealaska engages with shareholders. To take the survey, please visit www.sealaskasurvey.com to complete the survey online. You can …
Since the elimination of the blood quantum requirement in June 2022, Sealaska has welcomed over 2,100 new shareholders. Sealaska hosted a virtual shareholder orientation to provide our new shareholders with more information on Sealaska, as well as what to expect as a shareholder moving forward. Board Chair Joe Nelson served as the host and was joined …
Sealaska shareholders are now able to view and download their IRS Form 1099-DIV for 2022. Printed 1099 tax forms will be mailed on or before Jan. 27.
“Molly of Denali” is one of the biggest shows on PBS — so big that it was recently nominated for the Children’s and Family Emmys in two categories: Outstanding Preschool Animated Series and Outstanding Writing for a Preschool Animated Program. The team behind that outstanding writing includes four Sealaska shareholders: Frank Henry Kaash Katasse, Vera …