Sealaska Heritage Institute Receives Grant from Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to Launch Totem Pole Trail

Monday, December 20, 2021

Sealaska Heritage Institute Receives Grant from Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to Launch Totem Pole Trail

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has secured a grant to commission ten totem poles that will comprise part of Kootéeyaa Deiyí (Totem Pole Trail) along the downtown Juneau waterfront.

The $2.9 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will allow SHI to hire Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian master artists in Juneau and villages across Southeast Alaska to carve the poles, which will be raised in 2023.

The project is part of SHI’s vision to make Juneau the Northwest Coast art capital of the world, said SHI President Rosita Worl.

“Our traditional poles historically dominated the shorelines of our ancestral homelands and told the world who we were. It’s fitting that our totems will be one of the first things people see while sailing into Juneau,” said Worl, who also acknowledged Sealaska for donating the logs.

SHI’s ultimate goal is to commission 30 poles and raise them along the waterfront. The institute is working with the City and Borough of Juneau to site the first ten totems in easements from Main Street along the waterfront by Marine Park.

The priority for the ten poles will be Áak’w Kwáan and T’aakKwáan clans. Totem poles representing clans which also settled in the Áak’w village during the historic period will also be included. Haida and Tsimshian poles will also be represented among the first ten poles. Fran Houston, spokesperson for the Áak’w and member of the L’eeneidí and the Yaxtehíttaan and Lillian Petershoare of the Yanyeidí clan have conferred with SHI since the initial planning of the project. The clans will be selecting their designs to be included on the poles in the next few weeks. 

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 feature a corresponding story board that identifies the clan, crests and information related to the artwork. 

Through a separate project, SHI commissioned a massive 360-degree totem — an uncommon style that features designs all around the pole, as opposed to totems carved only on the front and sides. That totem, which will represent the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian and was made by Haida carver TJ Young, will be raised in the plaza of the Sealaska Heritage Arts Campus, which is scheduled to open next year in Juneau across from SHI’s Walter Soboleff Building on Seward Street.

The 360-degree totem will be a part of Faces of Alaska — a spectacular monumental art installation featuring bronze masks that represent Alaska’s seven major Native groups, including the Inupiat, Yup’ik, Alutiiq, Athabascan, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian.

Find More By

News type 
Funding Area 
Related Organizations