SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


By Susan Batho & Bill Hupe


September 17, 2007

Kasaan, Alaska - The Alaskan weather and unpaved Prince of Wales roads did not deter the large numbers of people who came to celebrate the raising of the Kasaan Unity Pole outside the Barry C Stewart School in Kasaan Village on Saturday, the 15th of the September. The IFA ferries were completely booked in the days before with cars and walk-ons as the celebrations began early with the meeting of family and friends - new and old - coming to help celebrate the first pole raising in the village in over 35 years. And long after the last visitors' cars had moved off, the partying continued in song and dance and food.

Raising the Pole
Photograph by Susan Batho & Bill Hupe©

When the early-morning convoy heading from Craig, and Klawock arrived at the village, the rain had really set in. Those with umbrellas shared them as visitors waited for the shuttle, driven by the efficient and hard-working Stephanie. The village organizing committee demonstrated their foresight in planning this event. Although the weather could not be predicted, parking for the numbers of cars was accommodated with parking outside the village and shuttling people in. There was more than adequate seating, bathrooms (always important), and the food never seemed to end. Visitors were literally filled with food, drink and the feeling of celebration that warmed everyone.

Two groups of singers and drummers lifted spirits when the rain fell and helped the crew of carvers complete the last minute touches to the pole; the sweet aroma of red cedar wood chips and sawdust filled the carving shed opposite the Kasaan Community Center. Children had made medicine pouches and gifts for the attendees and handed them out with happy smiles; the school mascot, a tiny dog called Lucky, was petted and spoilt as he darted back and forth making sure everything was moving along as it should. Shortly after noon the raising began, knives and chisels were laid to rest and the Unity Pole was considered complete.

Seating the pole
Photograph by Susan Batho & Bill Hupe©

The gathering came to a silence as Anna Peel's soft voice blessed the new pole, opening the afternoon's ceremonies to mark this historic event. An Opening Prayer was given, followed by the Master of Ceremonies, Tony Peele, giving a brief history of Kasaan and with others, related the coming together of the community to create Totem Pole, bringing the areas's rich history and culture alive for the newest generation, and, helping the community to grow, providing opportunities for the children to remain in the area.

The Master Carver, Stan Marsden, was introduced. He discussed the creation of the pole, and introduced and recognized the team of carvers, including his assistant, Stormy Hamar, who had toiled for months on the 38 foot pole, some of them working late into the night in whatever spare time they could find, to bring the dream to fruition. Marsden's final words were drowned out by the applause of the gathering, which by now exceeded five hundred people, all of whom stood for a standing ovation.

jpg Unity Pole

Unity Pole
Photograph by Susan Batho & Bill Hupe©

Finally, the much awaited time arrived, and 40 able-bodied men were asked to come forward to shift the totem pole from the shed and bathe it in the sunlight that had started to appear through the clouds. The Elders came forward first, and then younger men filled in the gaps. On signal, the supporting cross-beams were lifted, and ever so slowly the massive pole came forward into the open, then turned around. This was all done by the strength of the men working as one. Finally the pole was laid before its supporting post, ready for the last united haul. a young man clambered over the pole wrapping new ropes around it, which were slowly and carefully tightened in preparation to bringing the pole into an upright position. The knots were checked and double-checked, and finally, with the tallest of the young men at what would by the top end of the pole, giving it the final push, as many able bodied men and women who wished to participate, pulled the guiding ropes to bring it upright, and straight, and hold there until it was secured. The positioning, the permanent resting place for the Unity pole, was greeted with universal whooping and drumming. It as a triumphant moment, and one which must bring gladness to the hearts of the village and all the carvers who participated in its raising.

The pole which now stands watch over the children and the village's community center features a base of the bear, holding a healing man with a basket of roses. The Haida clans of killer whale, raven, and eagle are represented, with the thunderbird, his wings outspread above them, and three watchmen topping the pole. Whilst its rawness is fresh, it has already been baptized in soft rains and sunshine at its raising, and will soon become part of the colors of the forest again.


Susan Batho & Bill Hupe are residents of both Ketchikan and New South Wales, Australia. They are a writing and photographic team specializing in photography of Alaska and Australia for 22 years, and Best Friends for 22 years and a day.
Their website features some of their work, and they an be reached through

©2007 Susan Batho & Bill Hupe


E-mail your news & photos to

Publish A Letter in SitNews
        Read Letters/Opinions

Contact the Editor

SitNews ©2007
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska