Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has chosen two Native brothers to carve totem poles and a screen for the Gajaa Hít building in Juneau’s Indian Village.
Joe and T.J. Young will carve the pieces for the building, which is located near the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. SHI hired the team in 2009 to carve an Eagle pole at the University of Alaska Southeast (UAS), so staff is familiar with their work.
“They carved the pole at UAS and I know they’ve been working on a number of projects around the Northwest Coast since then. They’re pretty well regarded,” said SHI Art Director Rico Worl, adding the artists went through a competitive process and proposals were vetted by an artist committee and a technical committee, which both unanimously chose the Youngs.
The totems will replace two Eagle and Raven poles at Gajaa Hít. The poles have deteriorated to the point that they pose safety issues. The new pieces will display the crests of the first people of Juneau—the Auk Kwáan, which includes the Wooshkeetaan (Shark) and L’eeneidí (Dog Salmon) clans. SHI has been working closely with the Auk Kwáan and other residents of the village on the designs. The Auk Kwáan selected the Eagle and Raven crests to be carved on the pole and appointed village residents Ed Kunz (Raven of the L’uknax.ádi (Coho) Clan) and Chris Coronell (Eagle of the Yanyeidí (Wolf) Clan) to serve as Raven and Eagle. The carvers also will work with apprentices.
“We’ve had a couple of meetings so far with various members of Auk Kwáan and of the village street community just so that they can be engaged and have a voice in this project, since it’s on their land, in their home,” said Worl, noting SHI also will meet with the kwáan and village community to plan a lowering ceremony once the original poles are ready to come down.
The logs were delivered to Gajaa Hít earlier this month and the carvers are scheduled to start working on them this week. They will do initial work on the first pole at Gajaa Hít then transfer it to Sealaska Plaza. They’ll begin work on the second pole next year.
The original 26-foot poles were carved and painted by Tommy Jimmie, Sr., Edward Kunz, Sr., Edward Kunz, Jr., and William Smith in 1977 to honor the Raven and Eagle Clans of the Auk Kwáan. The Raven pole is a copy of a totem from Wrangell carved by William Ukas in 1896. The screen was designed by Tommy Jimmie, Sr., and painted by Ed Kunz, Sr., and Ed Kunz, Jr.
This project was funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Our Town program; the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council; and the Juneau Community Foundation. Sealaska donated the logs, and the Tlingit Haida Regional Housing Authority is paying for the apprentices. The project will be led by SHI in partnership with the housing authority, which owns Gajaa Hít, and the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council.
Sealaska Heritage Institute was founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.
CONTACT: Rico Worl, Art Director, 907-463-4844; Joe and T.J. Young, carvers, 907-301-0860