Sealaska Heritage

NEWS_SHI to hold ceremony for totem poles, bronze faces this week

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Event to be live streamed, everyone welcome

April 17, 2023

(Agenda) (Totem Pole Trail) (Faces of Alaska) (About Totem Poles)

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will hold a ceremony on Saturday for the first 12 poles of Kootéeyaa Deiyí (Totem Pole Trail) and Faces of Alaska, a major installation of bronze masks representing the five major Native groups of Alaska.

The ceremony will feature opening comments by Native leaders, political dignitaries and Fran Houston, spokesperson of the Áak’w Kwáan—a group of Tlingit clans that occupy the Juneau area as their homelands. Two ceremonies will follow: Thanking and feeding the spirits of the trees and Yéik Utee (Imitating the Spirits).

A totem pole dedication will be led by representatives of the clans and tribes whose crests are depicted on the poles. Seven of the totems represent the following clans: the L’eeneidí, Wooshkeetaan, Yanyeidí, Ishkahittaan, Kaagwaantaan, L’uknax.ádi and the Shangukeidí. Of the remaining five totems, four will represent the Haida Eagles and Ravens and the Tlingit Eagles and Ravens, and one will represent the Tsimshian.

The Faces of Alaska installation will feature comments from the master artists commissioned to make the masks. Four of the masks represent the Inupiat, Yup’ik, Alutiiq and the Athabascan and one mask represents the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian. Three of the masks will be installed prior to the ceremony and two will be installed later.

Totem Pole Trail is the third and final phase of SHI’s vision to make Juneau the Northwest Coast arts capital of the world, said SHI President Rosita Worl, noting the construction of the Walter Soboleff Building and the Sealaska Heritage Arts Campus marked phases one and two respectively.

“We have a dream to bring back the great and ancient material culture of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian in all of its glory and for all to see,” Worl said. “I hope the community will participate in the ceremony and celebrate these new additions to Juneau.”

When all 30 poles have been raised along Totem Pole Trail, SHI will have met its goal to make Juneau the Northwest Coast arts capital. 

“However, we have much work to do to continue to expand our efforts in teaching Northwest Coast art and promote its recognition throughout the state and nation,” Worl said.

The event will kick off at 11 am, Saturday, April 22, with dancing by groups and individuals at Heritage Plaza by the Sealaska Heritage Arts Campus. The Tlingit Culture, Language and Literacy (TCLL) students from Harborview Elementary will lead the procession. Everyone is invited to dance. The formal ceremony will begin at 12 pm. SHI will live stream the program on its YouTube channel

Totem Pole Trail

The ceremony, scheduled for April 22, will mark the installation of the first 12 of 30 totems for Totem Pole Trail, an initiative launched in 2021 through a $2.9 million grant from the Mellon Foundation’s Monuments Project. The Monuments Project is an unprecedented $250 million commitment by the Mellon Foundation to transform the nation’s commemorative landscape.

Through this grant, SHI hired 10 Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian artists, including TJ and Joe Young of Hydaburg, Jon Rowan of Klawock, David R. Boxley of Metlakatla, Nathan and Stephen Jackson of Saxman, Nicholas Galanin and Tommy Joseph of Sitka, Robert Mills of Kake and Mick Beasley of Juneau. Haida artist Warren Peele was also hired to make a totem pole for the project in 2022 through a grant from the Denali Commission. TJ Young made two of the poles for the project.

The Mellon grant also funded apprentices to mentor with each of the artists.

“We discovered through this process that there aren’t a lot of master artist Northwest Coast totem pole carvers. SHI’s Native Artist Committee considers a person a master artist totem pole carver if he/she has carved at least five totem poles. With the limited number of master totem pole carvers, the mentor-apprentice arrangement became a vital component of the project," Worl said.

“These indigenous master carvers and artists have made even more visible the stories and cultural legacies of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples to all who experience Southeast Alaska,” said Elizabeth Alexander, president of the Mellon Foundation. “The Totem Trail, together with other vital community commemorative efforts across the United States, is re-shaping our understanding of monuments and memorials to better reflect the complexity and multiplicity of histories in our country. We are deeply honored to support this work in Juneau.”

The totem poles will be an entry point from the waterfront to Heritage Square, a space encompassing the intersection of Seward and Front Streets and surrounding area that was named by the city in 2018. Each totem pole will eventually feature a corresponding story board that identifies the clan, crests and information related to the artwork. 

Faces of Alaska

The ceremony will also mark the unveiling of Faces of Alaska, a spectacular monumental art installation at the Sealaska Heritage Arts Campus featuring bronze masks that represent Alaska’s five major Native groups, including the Inupiat, Yup’ik, Alutiiq and Athabascan.  The fifth group will be a combination of the Southeast tribes, Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian, because they are culturally interrelated.

Master artists from each of Alaska’s five cultural groups were selected to create four-foot monumental bronze masks that are representative of their region’s artistic traditions. The Faces of Alaska art pieces positioned on pedestals will provide visitors to the arts campus a centerpiece for discussion and education on Alaska’s different cultural groups. The installation will serve as a gateway to Alaska, introducing other regions and the diversity of the state’s Native cultures.  

“I see Juneau and Southeast Alaska as the gateway to the rest of Alaska, and I wanted to introduce visitors and local residents to the other Indigenous groups of the state. Additionally, other groups of Alaska Natives have settled in Juneau and Southeast Alaska, and I wanted to make them feel welcome in our region,” Worl said.

The pieces were made by artists Perry Eaton (Sugpiaq/Alutiiq), Lawrence Ahvakana (Iñupiaq), Drew Michael (Yup’ik) and Kathleen Carlo-Kendall (Koyukon Athabaskan). Tsimshian artist John Hudson made a bronze mask that represents the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian.

The masks made by Ahvakana, Eaton and Michael will be installed prior to the ceremony and the other two will be installed later. 

About Totem Poles

Northwest Coast art evolved over several thousand years in the rich and complex Indigenous societies of the Pacific Northwest of North America. From the earliest contact with Westerners, wood carvings, weavings and other cultural pieces depicting Northwest Coast art were aggressively collected by museums and explorers and acclaimed as one of the most distinctive and unique art traditions in the world.

One of the most widely-known art forms within this tradition is the totem pole (kootéeyaa in Lingít, gyáa’aang in X̱aad Kíl, and p’tsaan in Sm’algya̱x). While its exact origins are unclear, scholars have traced the earliest known examples to the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian of Southeast Alaska, Haida Gwaii, and northern British Columbia.

The carved figures depict crests, spirits and designs that symbolize the rich history of clan origins and migrations and significant ancestors who made lasting contributions for their descendants. Carved exclusively of red cedar, totem poles are raised on important occasions such as marriages, the construction of a new clan house or the transfer of historic names and titles from one generation to the next. “Shame poles” were also carved if an individual or clan grievously offended another clan.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social, scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding. The Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom that can be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive. Learn more at

CONTACT: Kathy Dye, SHI Communications and Publications Deputy Director, 907.321.4636,