Ketchikan man agrees not to raise fake totem poles carved by convicted murderer

Construction of Joseph Machini’s Ketchikan shops at 420 Water St. appeared nearly complete by Monday, June 4, 2024. (Michael Fanelli/KRBD)

The owner of a prominent downtown Ketchikan property has agreed not to raise inauthentic totem poles carved by a convicted murderer next to his new shops. After meeting with leaders of the region’s Indigenous communities, Joseph Machini also agreed not to use the name “potlatch” for his marketplace.

The 420 Water St. property, which sits directly across from the docks where cruise ship tourists disembark, has been the subject of protest for more than a month. Residents voiced concern over the initial hillside excavation, but the leading concern was with the two large, totem-like poles that had been lying on the property until recently.

RELATED: Ketchikan residents protest imitation totem poles carved by convicted murderer

Vice-Mayor Janalee Gage raised the issue at a Ketchikan City Council meeting on May 2, calling the poles an affront to the Native community because they were carved by a non-Native man in Minnesota. 

The controversy was further fueled by reports that the carver had been charged with murdering his wife with another pole that they were working on together, as part of their shared carving business. In interviews with the Ketchikan Daily News, Machini confirmed he bought the poles from the Minnesota carver in question, and that the murder happened some time after his purchase.

But on Monday, Native leaders announced that they had met with Machini, who apologized and promised not to use the contested poles on the property. Norm Skan, president of the Ketchikan Indian Community, said this was the outcome they were hoping for.

“And he really, he felt bad about it. And he understood it,” Skan said. “And he agreed to reach out to the people that he met yesterday, and to start following our protocols on what would be acceptable or not.”

Skan said he appreciated Machini’s willingness to meet with them, and that they accepted his apology.

“I really respected him for coming into what could have been an extremely hostile environment and just sitting there and listening,” Skan said.

Skan said he and other leaders intend to hold Machini to his word, and that they’ll continue seeking out ways to prevent this from happening in the future.

KRBD was not able to reach Joseph Machini for this story.

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