Alaska Native nonprofit receives $2.9M grant to build totem pole trail along Juneau waterfront

A cruise ship docked, with a mountainous backdrop, on a sunny day.
A view from the Goldbelt Tram of a Princess Cruises ship docked in Juneau on Aug. 31, 2021. (Jennifer Pemberton / KTOO)

An Alaska Native nonprofit organization has received a $2.9 million grant to start building a totem pole trail along Juneau’s waterfront.

The Sealaska Heritage Institute said the grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will cover 10 poles though the longer-term goal is to have 30 poles in place.

“Our traditional poles historically dominated the shorelines of our ancestral homelands and told the world who we were,” said Rosita Ward, president of the institute. “It’s fitting that our totems will be one of the first things people see while sailing into Juneau.”

Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian master carvers will carve their poles in communities around the Southeast, teaching apprentices the art.

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

The poles will tell the history of the clans, she said. Clans will select their own crests and designs.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is working on finding funding for the other 20 poles.

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.”

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