Blessing Ceremony Held for Totem Poles on Chief Shakes Island

Charlotte Duren, KSTK – Wrangell

On Monday, August 29th members of the Wrangell Cooperative Association, master carvers, and Tlingit elders gathered at Chief Shakes Island to bless the totem poles before restoration work begins. KSTK’s Charlotte Duren has more on the ceremony and what’s next for the project.

Tlingit elders and relatives of Chief Shakes gathered for a blessing of the totem poles on Chief Shakes Island Monday before the dismantling of the tribal house begins. Over the week six of the seven totem poles on the island will be lowered to clear room for the restoration work. Master Carver Wayne Price was at the ceremony says it’s an important start to the project.

“Part of the history is to let them know we are going to take them down, were going to repair them, were going to make them all better again, and then we are going to put them back up. It’s kind of just being aware of what totems mean to us, and what’s going to be happening. Usually the totem was put up and it didn’t come down until it fell down,” he says.

The totem poles will be lowered by cranes, and gently placed on to cribbing. Later tarps will be placed over the totems to protect them from the elements. Price says a great deal of preservation work will be done to the totem poles before they are put back up at the end of the Chief Shakes Tribal House project.

“We will be able to let it dry out so we can get all the moss and trees off and repair the spots we can. Basically give it a really good face lift. We will then put some wood preservative on it and some fresh paint and get it ready to put back up,” he says.

Price says restoration work like this is somewhat new to Wrangell and looks forward to the process. And across town, the Wrangell Cooperative Association is hard at work planning for the next stages of the project.

“What keeps me going is that they are going to look a lot better when they go back up next summer,” that’s the WCA Grants Administrator Tis Peterman. Peterman has been working over a decade to acquire grant funding for the project, which this year reached close to $700,000.

But even with all the excitement surrounding the project she says for many in the community watching the totem poles come down is a hard thing to see, but says she is excited for the final result.

“You know we have been in the planning stages for so long. First to say this is actually happening, but second I grew up with those down there, they have always been there my whole entire life. To see them being brought down just sort of worries me. I always have the greatest fear that once we take it all apart, will we have enough money to put it back together? So it’s sort of emotional when we talk about, but we know we have several good funding sources out there that are watching this from all over the state, so we are excited about getting them put up and spruced up,” she says.

The WCA has recently hired local Joy Prescott to document the entire restoration process, which will include updates on the WCA website and Facebook page. The restoration of the Chief Shakes House is expected to be completed by the August of 2012. Peterman says at that point a celebration will be held to honor all those who contributed in the restoration process. Chief Shakes Island will be closed to the  public while the totem poles come down.

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Charlotte Duren is a reporter at KSTK in Wrangell.

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