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Haida, Lingít and Tsimshian artists celebrate completion of 360-degree totem pole

TJ Young, Joe Young, Andrea Cook and Greg Frisby dance at a celebration for a totem pole they completed in Juneau, Alaska on April 12, 2022. (Photo by Lyndsey Brollini/KTOO)

Sealaska Heritage Institute’s new arts campus isn’t quite open yet. But on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, about 50 people gathered there to celebrate the completion of a totem pole.

It’s called the Sealaska Cultural Values Totem Pole, and it’s been in the works for over half a year. It’s a 360-degree totem pole, which means it’s carved all the way around the pole instead of on one side.

The lead carver is Haida artist TJ Young, but he didn’t do it alone. He had help from his brother Joe Young and from apprentices Andrea Cook and Greg Frisby.

“We had a lot of support from different people throughout the project,” Young said. “I’ll feel a lot more relieved when the pole’s actually up. We are happy, we are happy to finish it.”

Young enlisted help from Tsimshian artist David R. Boxley and Lingít artist Robert Mills. He wanted a Tsimshian and a Lingít carver to carve a figure on the top of the pole since the three figures together represent the three Native tribes of Southeast Alaska.

“We have Lingít, Haida and Tsimshian represented and initially we thought they were going to be all males,” said Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl. “But then our artists thought about it and thought about diversity and equity. And do you know what they did? They put a woman on that totem pole.”

After the pole was finished, Worl asked the Yées Ḵu.oo Dancers to perform a few songs. Leader of the dance group Nancy Barnes says she was excited to be performing again.

“We haven’t been together, we’ve been zooming every Saturday,” Barnes said. “But when Rosita asked us if we’d come out for this, we wanted to honor these awesome artists.”

The pole is still lying down where it was being carved and painted. It will be installed later and unveiled when the Arts Campus opens. Young said it will probably be in June.

Editor’s note: Reporter Lyndsey Brollini previously worked at Sealaska Heritage Institute.