Planned totem poles in Douglas mark ‘A Time for Healing’

Savikko Park and Gastineau Elementary School will be the future sites of two totem poles. Plans include interpretive signs in Tlingit and English, explaining the history of the original people of Juneau and Douglas: the Aakʼw Ḵwáan and Tʼaaḵu Ḵwáan. Technology also plays a part in telling the story.

Download Audio

A tentative design of the Native plaza at Savikko park. (Photo courtesy of Corvus Design)
A tentative design of the Native plaza at Savikko park. (Photo courtesy of Corvus Design)

In 1956, the site of the Douglas Indian Cemetery was paved over near the elementary school. The Douglas Indian village was burned in 1962 to make way for a new harbor. Signs near Savikko Park explain the history of the Treadwell Mine, but there’s nothing about the area’s Native people.

Now there’s a project to change that. It’s called A Time for Healing: A Gaawooya Yei Shtoosneixhji.

The Goldbelt Heritage Foundation was awarded over a million dollars from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

John Morris remembers the spot where his house once stood. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)
John Morris remembers the spot where his house once stood. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

John Morris of the Tʼaaḵu Ḵwáan saw his village destroyed back in 1962.

“In my lifetime, I have not seen a Native totem pole placed in Douglas, so that’s really good news,” he said.

Morris, a tribal leader in the Douglas Indian Association, is on the design team for the totems. As the final plans come together, he says he doesn’t want the poles to reflect anything negative. It’s not what the poles are historically intended to do.

“My vision of the totem pole is going to be more of a welcome totem pole with the crest figures of the Tʼaaḵu Ḵwáan Yanyeidí people, which is of the Eagle-Wolf design.”

He says the poles could include other Native people in the area, like the Aakʼw Ḵwáan  and Wooshkeetaan.

The other part of the grant helps fund exhibits at the Juneau-Douglas Museum. The carving of the totems will be documented through photos and videos. Later, an $18,000 touch-table can provide museum-goers with an interactive experience.

“For example, if it were a map of the Douglas Indian Village you could touch a portion of it and it zooms into part of the screen. So it’s however you program it,” said Richard Steele, a grant writer at Goldbelt Heritage Foundation.

He’s been working with Jane Lindsay, the museum’s director, on how technology could play a role.

Lindsay came up with idea of the touch-table after seeing something similar at the Haines Library. And she’s excited the stories of the Aakʼw Ḵwáan and Tʼaaḵu Ḵwáan will be featured in a permanent exhibit.

“You know, we’re looking at some pretty important history in Douglas and for the Douglas Indian Village and for all of the local Native people here that we really need to talk about,” Lindsay said.

The totem poles are slated to go up in 2017. The touch-table is planned for 2018. A Time for Healing culminates in a community-wide celebration later that year.