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Yax totem pole restoration celebration at Auke Village Recreation Area


June 15, 2017
Thursday PM

(SitNews) - Juneau, Alaska - The Yaxté totem pole restoration and raising will be celebrated at Juneau’s Auke Village Recreation Area on Friday, June 16. The event will be from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public. There will be cultural, community and government speakers as well as dancing and refreshments.

For safety of the public during the event, there will be shuttle buses from the parking lots at the University of Alaska and Auke Bay Elementary School to the celebration and back starting at 9:30 a.m. The road through Auke Village Recreation Area will be closed in both directions from 7:00 a.m. through the end of the event. People with handicapped license plates or auto placards will be allowed to park on-site and will be directed to designated parking areas upon arrival. There will be tents and seating for elders.

jpg Dipper clan members dancing

Dipper clan members dancing
Members of the Dipper House dancing as the pole is raised on June 6, 2017
Photo courtesy USFS

The pole, representing the Dipper House of the Áak’w Kwáan, was raised in a private clan ceremony last Tuesday, June 6, with the invaluable assistance of Alaska Electric Light and Power Company (AEL&P), Alaska Marine Lines (AML), and the Juneau Police Department. Their expertise helped the pole raising proceed safely while clan members celebrated with traditional songs and dances.

“We are so pleased to see this beautifully-restored totem pole raised and re-dedicated at Auke Village Recreation Area,” said Becky Nourse, Acting Regional Forester for the Alaska Region. “This project highlights the great partnership and cooperative work among the clan, the Forest Service, local heritage professionals, Tlingit master carvers, AEL&P, AML, and the Juneau Police Department.”

In 1941, Frank St. Clair, a Tlingit from Hoonah, and two members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), originally carved the Yaxté (Big Dipper) totem, which symbolizes a “place where a strong tribe flourished.” The Áak’w Kwáan were the first people to settle in the Juneau area over 500 years ago.

Forest Service Landscape Architect Linn Forrest designed the totem in the early 1940s and it was the initial pole of his vision for a “Totem Park” in Juneau. However, his dream for an Auke Village “Totem Park” was never realized because World War II started and affected funding for the CCC program.

Forrest also oversaw earlier totem pole restoration work at the Sitka National Historical Park in 1939 and helped design the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.

jpg Yaxté totem shown in place after it was raised on June 6, 2017

Yaxté totem shown in place after it was raised on June 6, 2017
Photo courtesy USFS

Over the years, water damage and insects began affecting the structural integrity of the Yaxté totem, which was originally planted directly in the soil. The totem suffered the effects of stubborn woodpeckers and was also damaged by arsonists and bullet holes. Seven years ago, the Forest Service took down the totem in the interest of public safety and placed it in storage.

The agency consulted with Áak’w Kwáan elders and the Douglas Indian Association to find a way to refurbish and re-erect the historical totem pole, and Tommy Joseph did a conditional assessment of the pole and recommended it could be restored. Finally, the Juneau Ranger District received the necessary funding to proceed with the restoration project. 

Tlingit Master Carver Wayne Price, along with apprentice carver Fred Fulmer of the Hoonah Chookaneidí, and a great grandson of the totem’s original carver, Frank St. Clair, restored the totem which has overlooked the Auke Village Recreation Area in Juneau for more than 70 years.

Price began his restoration work on the totem pole in the summer of 2015. The pole features five carved bird faces, the face of an Áak’w noble woman who is revered for averting an oncoming war assault from another tribe and is topped by a raven to represent the moiety and supported at the bottom by the motif of a female brown bear – which represents the Big Dipper (Yaxté) and serves as the primary crest of the Yaxté Hít (Dipper House) people of the Áak’w Kwaan L’eeneidi (Raven-Dog Salmon) clan. Price also designed and carved two 10-foot house posts for the Forest Service’s science lab center in Juneau, to tell the story of the traditional land users—the Áak’w Kwáan. 

The Forest Service has implemented new state-of-the-art preservation techniques and maintenance for the pole to keep it in good condition, and also installed it on a new metal strong back that keep the base up off the damp ground.

The Alaska Region of the Forest Service manages almost 22 million acres of land within the Chugach and Tongass National Forests.



Editing by Mary Kauffman, SitNews



Source of News:

United States Forest Service



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