Wrangell Sentinel -

By Dan Rudy 

Tribe moves poles out of city storage


Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

Volunteers and harbor employees begin shifting the Sun Totem from its erstwhile storage at the boatyard to Wrangell Cooperative Center's recently built carving facility. The pole was the biggest of seven moved on Friday.

Seven retired totem poles changed homes on March 11, with volunteers from Wrangell Cooperative Association working with the Harbor Department taking advantage of the sunny weather to move them out of storage at the boatyard to the newly-built cultural center on Front Street.

The poles vary in age and condition, and until they were put into storage were positioned on Chief Shakes Island and at different spots around town. The Sun Totem, for instance, for a time previously stood on the lawn outside City Hall.

In 1997, a number of poles were indefinitely put into storage at the green warehouse at Front Street and Case Avenue. Development of the Marine Service Center in recent years went on around it, and eventually the city contacted WCA about finding the poles a new home.

"All of a sudden it's prime real estate," WCA tribal administrator Aaron Angerman said. "We needed to get them out of there."

With the relocation of the poles, harbormaster Greg Meissner explained space elsewhere in the yard can be freed up, enough to accommodate two boats.

It was decided to move the poles to the Cultural Center, which in addition to a shop and community center functions as a carving facility. The facility's completion last year was the second of three phases for cultural development being undertaken by WCA, which began with the restoration of the house on Chief Shakes Island in 2013. The recarving of some of these totem poles and the training of master crafters will be the third phase.

"It was always the goal when they started fundraising ten years ago, to recarve the totems," Angerman said.

Eight are ultimately slated to be recarved, including two of the ones moved last week. Angerman explained four others are currently in storage on Chief Shakes Island, and a further two at a green container building nearby.

Of the first group is the Sun Totem, which at 58-feet was the longest being moved on Friday. Resident Sandy Churchill explained the pole is of the Kiks.adi clan, of the Tlingit's Raven moeity.

Tremendously heavy, volunteers found the totem difficult to shift. Forklifts were needed to help put the pole onto skids, and again when one of the three snapped in half.

Accompanied by her drum, Virginia Oliver sang a Kiks.adi song while the pole was being moved.

"I just sang it because I knew that pole was the Sun pole and it came to me," she explained.

Its first glimpse of the sun since being put into storage 19 years ago, Oliver was moved by the experience of seeing the Sun Totem again.

"This swelling in my heart when they came out," she started. Oliver recognized most of the others: the Strong Man, Eagle, One-Legged Fisherman poles and one from Chief Shakes. "They watched over us all our childhood. It really meant a lot to see them all again."

For confirmation of the poles' identities Angerman has reached out to Steve Brown, a master carver and former Wrangell resident familiar with local totems. Exchanging photographs of the pieces, Angerman said Brown will soon be providing what he knows about each pole's history, likely origins and whether it is already a replica.

Two of the seven totem poles were already previously recarved, and Angerman explained their doppelgangers are currently standing at the city's Totem Park. Several poles may have been among those carved in 1939 or 1940 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program. During its time in Wrangell, the CCC also organized the restoration of the Chief Shakes Tribal House in 1940.

Initially the poles were not going to move for a while. On Friday Angerman had met up with Meissner and WCA president Richard Oliver down at the yard only to scope out the prospect. But with the weather being as nice as it was they decided to take advantage of the opportunity.

After a couple of calls, they were able to get a good group of volunteers and harbor staff to move the poles. Intended to move just three, the group stuck with it and after five hours had all seven out.

"I'm glad it's worked out," he said of the move.

Angerman said the Tribe is working on grants to obtain storage racks or a semipermanent outdoor shelter to keep the totem poles safe until they can be recarved. There may be more still coming as well, with poles in storage at the boatyard warehouse's loft and out at Shoemaker.

Eventually he explained WCA will bring down master carvers, including those from among the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian tribes. The goal then will be to restore or replace the older poles while training local carvers in the process.


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