SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Open Letter: CPV Proposal for $199,000 toward restoration of two totems

By Mary L. Stephenson

August 24, 2018
Friday PM

Thank you for permitting an open discussion about the CPV Community Profile, Needs, Priorities and Expenditures, in this example, with the City of Saxman, as they own and manage the Saxman Totem Park; caretakers of a collection of (30) Tlingit carvings from abandoned villages and cemeteries of Tongass, Cat, Village and Pennock Islands as well as Cape Fox Village.

Open Letter To:
KGB Mayor David Landis, Ketchikan Borough Assembly, Ketchikan Borough Manager; Saxman Mayor Sylvia Banie; Ketchikan City Council Members; KetchikanCity Manager

With the exception of the Dogfish Pole, aka Chief Ebbits Pole, all the totems have been replaced since the 1930s and admittedly, the City of Saxman is attempting to replicate for the second time many of those who life’s expectancy exceeds 70 years. (Page 3 CPV Proposal) Master Carver Nathan Jackson as well as the City’s Totem Committee has identified 5 major totems that need immediate attention. Is it a birthright of future generations that totems carved, replicated, restored or installed in the Saxman collection will be at someone else’s expense? When a new story pole has been commissioned, who pays for the carving, restoration or replication during its 80-year lifespan? Is it the responsibility of the caretaker, receiving revenues during its promotion of, obligated to finance the repair or replacement what Mother Nature damaged during its lifetime? Does funding a restoration take higher priority than social, education or mental health programs?

(Page 6 CPV Proposal) Chief Ebbits : Ebbetts Pole lineage comes down through Chief Ebbits, the Head Chief of the Tongass Tribe and a monument that tells an important peaceful story of early Tlingit contact with white traders. Giant Rock Oyster Pole was brought to Saxman from Cape Fox Village and stood in front of the Eagle Claw House; illustrates four emblems related to house groups of the Nexadi clan, descendants of Eagle Claw House. Thus the descendants of the Tongass Tribe and Cape Fox Tribe revere the importance in preservation, yet critical toward non-natives involvement all-the-while (privately) profit in their own entrepreneur endeavors.

It is commendable that the City of Saxman wants independence from other Alaskan cities. Their revenue derives from a whole host of opportunities they are creating for the population base of 411 citizens. Based on the 2018 SE Conference scheduled in September, Saxman’s Community Economic Development Projects list their Priority Projects. For a successful business profile, is Saxman expecting financial partnership from the City, Borough and outside sources or intend to govern these businesses entirely themselves?

  • Waterfront Development: a.) Harbor Planning, b.) Seaport Renovation, c.) Ferry Terminal
  • Mahoney Lake Hydroelectric Project
  • Business Development
  • Tourism Master Plan / Carving Center Expansion
  • Saxman Community Center: a.) Parking Lot and b.) Youth Programming
  • Organized Village of Saxman: Tribal Offices
  • Stormwater Infrastructure
  • Residential Water Meters
  • Wastewater System Upgrade / Mountain Point Tie-in
  • New Raw Water Source / Tie in to Borough
  • Totem Row Park Improvements: Benches and Lighting

Ketchikan constituents and heritage preservation foundations should be commended for taking a leadership role toward preserving Southeast Alaskan Native Legacy and Heritage. For Ketchikan, showcasing totems and interpretive signage throughout the downtown area, Heritage Totem Center, Saxman Totem Park, Totem Bight State Park and Potlatch Park. In addition, totem walking tours, Alaska Discovery Center, Tongass Historical Museum, Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary, and (newcomer) Eagle Point Carving-Eagle Education Center choose to do so with public and private entrepreneurial funding. A totem park like Saxman is competing for the same tourist dollar. Truth be known, Saxman is not offering ‘something for everyone’ and the 2018 season is proving the Independent Tour Operators are taking their clients elsewhere.

Ketchikan Cruise Ship industry is the primary financial resource for the City of Saxman. Although 2018 is an estimate, the breakdown totals are as follow:

jpg Chart

Click here or on the chart to view a larger image.

(Pages 2 and 4 CPV Proposal) It is difficult to understand the City’s Flow Charts when one start in the year 2007 while the other chart begins in 2011. Based on Saxman CPV Visitors figures - 898,999 visitors paid an admission fee since 2007, topping over 100,000 visitors on average since 2011. Perhaps the Borough is privy to Saxman’s gross earnings for this Tourism Economic Business, however, without a Profit and Loss Statement, the usage of words or phrasing percentages, leveraging and ‘tripled its money’ is a smoke screen of the bottom line profit margins. Is the City of Saxman self-sufficient in the Tourism Economic Development endeavor or is it not; Grants and Funding resources should supplement the expense; it is not an entitlement for the full acquisition.

Revenues from all contracts, retail concessions, rental fees of clan house, admission
fees to walk-in visitors and independent tour operators vs. General Operational Expenses, Long-term projects for restoration and Deferred Maintenance of buildings and totems.

(Page 2 and 3 CPV Proposal) ...Through the years, Saxman’s Totem Row Park has played a defining role in the development and expansion of southeast Alaska’s cruise industry – an industry vital to the regional economy. ....the Park continues to play a vital role in attracting visitors – and associated spending – to the Ketchikan region. By leveraging outside funds, millions of dollars has been invested Saxman Totem Row Park: (bus parking lot) bathroom facilities, carving center expansion, replaced tribal house roof, parking lot paving, park facilities and attractions to accommodate such a large number of heritage tourists.(120,000 annually).

City of Saxman publishes this mantra in their sales and marketing literature when applying for supplemental funding, however, walk-in visitors are told at the time they purchase the $5 ticket, the carving center and clan house are not included. Independent Tour Operators do not get a courtesy discount based on volume and their guests are not permitted in public buildings. They too pay the $5 per ticket price. It is when inquisitive visitors see others inside so-they-too venture in. Once inside the carving center, staff is gracious and answers questions but the visitors rarely become part of the 20-minute program. The clan house is closed to visitors during the Cape Fox Dance Group performances to pre-sold cruise ship patrons and doors locked in between performances. Parking lot restrooms must remain open during Park Hours 8-5 PM Daily. To deny funding until Saxman offers inclusivity is the first step for change.

The CPV Proposal should be specific on where the City of Saxman intends to publically display the 90 foot Dogfish Pole and Giant Oyster Pole during the next 2-4+ years as this is an historical event that should be shared. Who- ever is granting resource funds, they are entitled to know the public has full access or an explanation why exclusivity is given only to Cape Fox Tour ticket holders.

(Page 1 Cover Letter CPV Proposal) It was mentioned by Assembly Members and reiterated in the CPV Proposal that Saxman Totem Park is a ‘draw’ and benefits the local community. Yes, maybe on a broader scale, however, the Saxman Native Experience Tour sold exclusively on the cruise ship begins and end at the dock. Due to limited time and nasty weather, after the tour guests are dropped off at the dock and given an opportunity to browse nearby stores or return to the ship. It will be the Independent Tour Operators and free downtown shuttles that spread out the drop zones (Creek Street Historic District, Heritage Center, The Plaza, etc.) and they provide benefits to the local community and merchants 12+ blocks away - more so than City of Saxman.

I know this because of a Study conducted in San Francisco with merchants of Chinatown. Those in the ‘1-hour zone’ saw more foot traffic than those just outside the ‘zone’. The City provided designated White Zones to unload/load passengers; the Tour Director gave instruction to be back in 1 hour. It was observed the visitors went up one side of the street for 30 minutes and returned on the other side in 30 minutes. Merchants one block beyond the 30-minute radius experienced lessor sales, thus complaining they were not benefiting from the sales revenues and marketing dollars spent promoting ‘local community’ historic Chinatown.

In summary, in the August 20th meeting, Borough Assembly Members reminded the public it uses CPV shared revenue to cover the costs of delivering services and maintaining infrastructure for the benefit of the cruise industry; primarily for passenger safety and enhance passenger services. It was noted their 2018-2019 budget has $200,000 for such expenditures.

The City of Saxman knew for years the Dogfish Pole and Rock Oysterman Pole needed restoration and did nothing in preparation (save money or secure funds) from various sources ahead of time. If the Totem Pole Committee has designated 5 poles to be restored, the City of Saxman should have a system in place to move the poles through the process in a timely and cost effective manner. The caretakers need to take a pro-active stance in restoration as an educational art form and part of the experience. Instead, Saxman dwells in the negative: they refuse to get with modern-day parks who offer self-guiding interpretive signage, deny visitors full access of public spaces, and can’t keep ahead of its repairs or restoration. Heritage foundations would embrace and gladly support funding these endeavors if Saxman applied good intent.

The August 20, 2018 CPV Proposal did not include a financial statement, leaving Assembly Members to question, in my opinion, is the request justified or because of an deep-seeded entitlement. The CPV Proposal should have included competitive quotes from master carvers and apprenticeship program, expectation by master carver to replicate the art form as the original intended, timeline for completion, and how best the funds would be spent toward product, services and the labor for the duration of restoration.

It should also be noted that the leadership and elders from the Tongass Tribe and Cape Fox Tribe take pride in selecting a master carver from within and the process to select someone is based on availability, affordability, and accessibility to reside in Ketchikan during the 2-4+ years assignment. The final selection is important and could delay start time based on variables too long to list.

In my opinion, Ketchikan Gateway Borough has every right to have all these questions answered in the City of Saxman CPV Proposal before the Assembly approves any portion of their precious funds. Better that the funds are approved and allocated as established goals are achieved than sitting in Saxman bank account drawing interest with no accountability. It is being fiscally responsible. Financial institutions need to be more vigilant in the guidelines where public access and public funding are in partnership while supporting the Alaskan Native stories to a worldly audience.

Thank you for listening.

Respectfully submitted,

Mary L. Stephenson
Ketchikan, Alaska



Editor's Note:

The text of this letter was NOT edited by the SitNews Editor.


Received August 23, 2018 - Published August 24, 2018

Related Viewpoint:



Viewpoints - Opinion Letters:

Webmail Your Opinion Letter to the Editor


Representations of fact and opinions in letters are solely those of the author.
The opinions of the author do not represent the opinions of Sitnews.

E-mail your letters & opinions to
Your full name, city and state are required for letter publication.

Published letters become the property of SitNews.

SitNews ©2018
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

Articles & photographs that appear in SitNews may be protected by copyright and may not be reprinted without written permission from and payment of any required fees to the proper sources.

E-mail your news & photos to

Photographers choosing to submit photographs for publication to SitNews are in doing so granting their permission for publication and for archiving. SitNews does not sell photographs. All requests for purchasing a photograph will be emailed to the photographer.