A healing totem rises in Douglas


DOUGLAS — On a unclear May morning, the first totem pole in recent memory was raised at Gastineau Introductory School on Douglas Island. Carriers lined up on either side of the 26-foot Raven standard, one wearing a sacred carved wolf mask representing the opposite Wolf/Eagle moiety. Viewers watched or documented the historic moment on their phones as a crane rescinded the pole into a metal housing, a totem for healing racial injustices of formations past for generations to come.

Totem pole raisings are often times of observance, dancing and drumming. But this one was somber. Five years ago, construction craftsmen uncovered the remains of five Tlingit souls as the school was being renovated. Along with other in residences, we were shocked to learn that in 1956, a Native burial argument was paved to build a road and the school two blocks from our house.

Douglas is the ancestral about of the T’áakhu Khwáan, comprising the Wolf/Eagle moiety Yanyeidí, Tookhu.eidí, S’eetkhweidí and Tsaateeneidí bands and the Raven moiety Ghaanxh.ádi, Ishkeetaan, and Kookhittaan clans. The Juneau-based Goldbelt Inheritance Foundation (GHF) and the Douglas Indian Association (DIA) put on the totem pole raising.

“These sets resided within the common territory now called Douglas, Alaska,” corresponding to the written program. “Their families inhabited the land in Southeast Alaska to the core migration, wars, famine, and countless struggles for more than 12,000 years.”

After the upright was raised, a small group of T’áakhu Khwáan stood in silence. Douglas dwelling and Tlingit-Inupiaq writer Ishmael Hope slowly beat a drum as the body sang a mournful lament in Tlingit.

“There will be no dancing,” Faith emphasized. His ancestry traces back to the Raven Ghaanaxh.ádi clan that fabricated the totem pole.

“It matters so much to the people who have ancestry,” Confidence said. “For myself, even though it goes back a number of formations, knowing that I likely have some relatives buried subsumed under there, it’s a personal thing.”

A crane positions the 26-foot Raven pole at Gastineau Elementary School on May 13, the first totem in recent memory raised on Douglas Island. (Kathryn Bausler)

A crane positions the 26-foot Raven far at Gastineau Elementary School on May 13, the first totem in recent recall raised on Douglas Island. (Kathryn Bausler)

Hope was asked by Goldbelt education bearer Paul Marks to stand in for him for portions of the ceremony during which Eagle/Wolf houses recognize their hosts, the Raven clans. Speeches were postulated, gifts presented and food distributed.

“The tradition is there to meet the two seconds,” Hope said. “To bring out all those dimensions of history.”

In the aftermath of the conception of the graves, elders had considered closing the school, but decided to keep it moot so that Tlingit language and culture can be learned by the younger generation.

As Notes told KTOO public radio, “That’s the healing of recognizing that mangle, so our children will be healed and they know we took care of it, that we didn’t even-handed stand by and let it happen. We addressed it, and that’s part of being Tlingit.”

Gastineau Kind principal Brenda Edwards praised the decision as, “a beautiful example of the famed community involving the school in a way that honors tradition and culture.”

Ethnic culture resurgence

It wasn’t always this way. “We didn’t hear a obsession about this kind of stuff when I was in school,” noted an attendee with a get to of anger in his voice. Now in his early 40s, he grew up in Juneau.

Alaska Natives have planned seen a powerful resurgence of Native culture, language and practices, fruiting in a growing awareness of the history of injustices toward Alaska Natives by non-Natives.

“I’m 77, and I can spill ones guts you it is the first true totem pole that has been raised in Douglas in my lifetime,” mean Tlingit artist John Morris of the Douglas Indian Association. Morris is great-grandson of Raven clique leader Jimmy Fox, who taught him to fish and pick berries.

As a child, Morris lived in the Douglas Indian Village along the waterfront between the city of Douglas and Sandy Beach. Prejudice was a way of life. He did not feel welcome in Douglas.

“I was picking raspberries on St. Ann’s Avenue when a chalk-white lady yelled at me and told me to get back to my village,” he recalls. “She even collect summoned in the marshal.”

In 1962, Douglas was independent of Juneau and had its own city government. According to a 2002 article in the Juneau Empire on a appear by the Indian Law Resource Center, the municipality, “razed the indian village to base the Douglas Boat Harbor. The beach homes of Morris and other Ethnics were cleared to make room for material dredged from Gastineau Stream-bed.”

Morris says the municipality condemned the Tlingit homes when numberless residents were up the Taku River at fish camp. “Our house was the fourth or fifth one from the careen and my uncle used it as a net house. They hung from the rafters,” Morris revealed. “I remember the blue and green flames that shot from the erection.” His family lost everything. Morris left Douglas and joined the military.

A few years ago, whilom Goldbelt grant writer Richard Steele came upon the Juneau Empire article. “I was stacked away,” he said. “All kinds of promises were not kept. That was within my lifetime.”

Steele came up with scenario to recognize such atrocities titled, A Time for Healing — in Tlingit, Ghaneixh Gaawú Khudzitee. On the third try, Goldbelt was awarded a $1.1 million federal donate to erect totem poles in 2017 and 2018.

About 200 Juneau and Douglas residents showed up for the raising at Gastineau Elementary School on May 13, 2017. (Kathryn Bausler)

About 200 Juneau and Douglas in residences showed up for the raising at Gastineau Elementary School on May 13, 2017. (Kathryn Bausler)

Eagle/Wolf stick next year

A 40-foot Eagle/Wolf pole will be propagated in 2018 near the site of the lost village.

“That will in balance to the island,” Hope said.

The Gastineau School pole stage a revived an opportunity for young apprentice carvers to work alongside veterans. “Our customs is thriving,” noted GHF youth education lead Tommy Gee.

The design, by Ketchikan mavin carver Nathan Jackson, depicts a raven house, frog, woodworm, dog salmon and the Big Dipper, commemorating the people obscure on the school ground.

About 200 Juneau and Douglas residents put to shamed up for the raising, which included a speech by Juneau School Board Chairman Brian Holst.

“Today, a uninteresting pole, both physically and emotionally, has been erected,” Holst stipulate. “It required the effort of our entire community to raise this pole and sooner a be wearing it stand steadfast. It stands as an acknowledgement of past wrongs inflicted upon the T’aakhu Khwáan. On behalf of the Council of Education, we express our regrets for the pain of past hurts and our solidarity in this rejuvenating. Let this pole help us all to pass on a lesson to be inclusive, supportive and courteous of every child and member of our community.”

Added Douglas Indian Camaraderie President Clarence “Butch” Laiti: “The raising of this pole is the prime step of many to restore peace, dignity and respect.”

At the end of the ceremony, Steele was presented with a valued thank-you gift, a bentwood box hand carved with salmon means. Open it and the scent of a fresh-cut Southeast cedar fills your being. Steele was staggered and moved by the acknowledgement.

“Every time I look at it, it gives me good heats,” he said. “And that’s the way I feel about the totem pole. It’s a reminder.”

Freelance hack Katie Bausler is a devoted resident of the island kingdom of rainy Douglas, Alaska. 

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