Telling Alaska’s Story: Native nonprofit secures $2.9 million grant to build Juneau totem pole trail

The Sealaska Heritage Institute has secured a $2.9 million grant to start building a totem pole trail through downtown Juneau.
Published: Dec. 27, 2021 at 3:43 PM AKST
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The Sealaska Heritage Institute has been awarded a $2.9 million grant to start building a totem pole trail along Juneau’s waterfront.

The grant was awarded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation earlier in the month. The plan is to carve the poles by the end of 2022 and raise them in 2023.

Rosita Worl, president of the Sealaska Heritage Institute, says the grant will help pay for 10 totem poles to be carved by master artists and their apprentices from across Southeast Alaska.

“We want to make sure that our master artists are transferring those skills to the next generation,” she added.

The logs, donated by Sealaska Corp., are set to be raised along the picturesque Juneau Seawalk. The trail will culminate in a 360-degree totem pole in Heritage Square which is part of a separate project.

“It’s been our dream to make Juneau the Northwest Coast arts capital,” Worl said. “So we’ve had a number of projects contributing to that vision.”

The institute’s goal is to eventually carve and raise 30 totem poles along the trail, but the first 10 are being prioritized for artists from Juneau clans. Worl says Tsimshian and Haida artists will also be represented.

“It will tell the history of each of those clans,” she added. “Each of those clans will select their own crests, their own designs.”

Kootéeyaa Deiyí, the trail’s name in the Tlingit language, is part of a long-term vision for Juneau to showcase its Native cultures and heritage.

“It’s a statement about our presence, the aboriginal people, the first Native peoples of Alaska,” Worl said. “This is our homeland.”

There is a new arts campus under construction in the center of town that is set to showcase Native art from across Alaska. The campus is close to being completed, Worl said, but there have been delays due to coronavirus-impacted supply chain issues.

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