Sealaska Heritage receives $2.9 million grant for Juneau totem trail

JUNEAU (AP) — An Alaska Native nonprofit cultural organization has received a $2.9 million grant to start building a totem pole trail along Juneau’s downtown 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 Worl, 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 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, adding that clans will select their own crests and designs. The plan is to have the first 10 poles in place in 2023.

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.”

The New York City-based Mellon Foundation had assets totaling more than $8 billion as of a year ago, awarding more than $500 million in grants across the United States and Puerto Rico in 2021.


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