Friday, May 13, 2011
The totem pole is emblematic of Sitka National Historical Park, Alaska’s oldest federal park, and home to arguably the world’s best-known collection of these towering examples of Pacific Northwest Coast Native art. On May 15th, the park will add one more to its totem pole collection, a 35-foot red cedar centennial totem pole from Tlingit carver Tommy Joseph. The raising of the pole in mid-afternoon will highlight the final set of events of the park’s centennial year.
Much about the day and the pole take us back to an earlier time. As has been done among the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian for centuries, the carver will direct participants to pull the pole into position using ropes. In the traditional manner of a village totem fronting a clan house – which, in this case is the park visitor center – the pole will face the ocean. Hundreds of people are expected to gather on the beach fronting the visitor center to celebrate the new pole. Following the afternoon events, people will gather at the Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s Community House (Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi) to celebrate the pole raising with food, song and dance.
In keeping with core concepts of Tlingit totemic art, the pole design is carefully balanced. The pole honors both the Tlingit and Haida traditions; among its design elements is a replica of the Haida carved Yaadas Crest pole, one of the first poles to be placed in the park. This pole features intertwined Raven and Eagle, which represents the two moieties of the Tlingit people.
The pole also honors Russian culture with a Julian calendar and a replica of the Russian possession plaque buried near Sitka in the 1700s that establish the Tsar’s claim to the land. The centennial totem pole is almost certainly the only one in the world to include the buffalo, Joseph’s nod to a century of national park presence in Sitka.
The carving itself was done by Joseph and team members, drawn from several Alaskan communities, who have blood ties to the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian. Joseph is the resident carver of the park’s partner, the Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center, which offers daily demonstration arts programs in carving and metal working throughout the visitor season at Sitka.
“This is the most fun I’ve ever had on a totem pole,” Joseph said, noting the team spirit that produced a striking piece of art that balances the traditional totemic design with modern elements and new colors.
Regional Director Sue Masica will keynote the totem pole ceremony, and witness the transfer of the pole from Tommy Joseph to park superintendent Randy Larson.