Kootéeyaa Deiyí dedicates a new era of Northwest Coast art

    Sealaska Heritage Institute's name is seen behind the Sealaska Cultural Values Pole. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - A dedication ceremony for Kootéeyaa Deiyí (Totem Pole Trail) was held Saturday afternoon at the Sealaska Heritage Plaza.

           12 of 30 totem poles that make up Kootéeyaa Deiyí have been raised along Juneau's waterfront.

    The poles were carved by Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian artists.

    The ceremony also celebrated the unveiling of “Faces of Alaska,” a new installation of five, 4-foot bronze masks that represent the diversity of the Alaska Native cultures.

    The masks represent the cultures of the Iñupiat, Yup’ik, Alutiiq, and Athabascan people, along with a combined mask for the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples.

    The Tlingit Culture, Language, and Literacy program at Harborview Elementary opened the ceremony with a dance of young and old.

    Gaawt'ak.aan (In the Lee of the North Wind) Dancers from Hoonah also performed.

    Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Kaaháni Worl delivered a powerful message.

    "Those children who are speaking our culture, speaking our language, who are dancing on our land, they are going to assure us that we are going to be here for another 17,000 years," she said. "Gunalchéesh to the clans and tribes whose crests and masks are represented here. And to the master artists, who created these iconic works that will stand among the greatest art collection of the world. We are making Juneau the Northwest Coast art capital of the world."

    Worl commented that the artists spent more than six months creating the poles after being commissioned by Sealaska Heritage Institute.

    She remarked that the totem poles weren't traditionally raised due to their position on the waterfront, and thanked Dawson Construction for their help.

    Worl recognized the Mellon Foundation, the City and Borough of Juneau, Sealaska, and the Rasmuson Foundation as sponsors.

    Many master Alaska Native artists and leaders gave speeches at the event, calling Kootéeyaa Deiyí a "revolution" and a "new era".

    The common theme repeated was that by reviving their culture through traditional art, they will continue to serve their children for generations.

    The totem poles will tell a story of cultural revival and identity.

    "The master apprenticeship relationship is our culture. It's what's created our 10,000+ year line of language, arts, tradition. Thank you Master Carvers for bringing your apprentices under your wings, teaching them your knowledge. Anybody who carries our knowledge forward; our weavers, our language speakers, our singers, our dancers, our uncles who take their nephew fishing and hunting, our aunties who take their nieces berry picking," Anthony Mallott, President and CEO of Sealaska said. "Keeping our people on our lands, keeping us whole in our relationship with our lands. The carvers and apprentices are celebrated today, but all of you are celebrated for moving our culture forward."

    "We're gonna extend our best to each other with kindness, love. Understanding that these totem poles have been in the works for the last, yes, probably six months, but what's behind them has been in the works for the last 17,000 years. And it's all rooted in this place, and we are still here," Joe Nelson, the chair for Sealaska Board of Directors said.

    Above: Anthony Mallott speaks. Below: Joe Nelson speaks. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    "Our Northwest Coast art was almost extinct a time," Fran Houston, cultural Leader of the A’akw Kwáan, said while recognizing the L'eeneidí Pole. "All of this will bring us together. Support each other; love one another."

    Following the opening dance performance, Southeast Alaska Native Veterans walked the Posting of Colors.

    American Indian and Alaska Native people serve in the US Armed Services at a higher rate than any other group.

    Above: Alaska Native veterans are recognized. Below: Eagle, Wooshkeetaan present Yéik' Utee/imitating the spirits. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Below: Yeilnaawú Joe Zuboff (Raven, Deisheetaan) presents Yéik' Utee/imitating the spirits. When a Yéik' Utee/imitating the spirits ceremony is done, it must have balance, which is why both Eagles and Ravens participate. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Clans have special relationships with the spirits represented in their crests. They also have special spirits that are called upon to provide protection. Spirits are called through clan songs and through dancers. Dancers imitate the animal represented in a shakee.át while dancing behind a blanket.

    As they performed their prayer dance, light rain, and strong wind would rise and fade; eagles and ravens could be heard crying out, and a sudden burst of ravens shot overhead. Eagle feathers were collected for good luck.

    Above: Kaax̱ḵaatuklag̱é Ken Grant sings a song as Ben Coronell performs a thanking of the spirits of the trees ceremony. Below: Twitchell speaks behind the flames. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Below: People held their hands up in prayer. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    "We believe everything has a spirit, even the trees," SHI President Worl said. "So we thank the spirits of the trees and feed them."

    They acknowledge and thank the spirits of the cedar trees for allowing their use in the carving of the totem poles.

    "Our ancestors are looking down and smiling," Grant said, with an eagle's whistle heard in the distance.

    "What was unlawfully and illegally taken from us, we're legally buying back," X̲'unei Lance Twitchell, a Professor of Alaska Native Languages at the University of Alaska Southeast said. "We're just going to buy it all back. Mendenhall and Gastineau, we are coming for you next...It belongs to our grandchildren; it's a place for them."

    Tlingit & Haida Central Council President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson echoed that sentiment, using T&H's most recent purchase of the Driftwood Lodge property in the old Juneau Indian Village as an example.

    "The languages, art, the foods we eat, the dances, and regalia, are important," Peterson said. "I see the prejudice changing."

    Above: Peterson and Twitchell hug after Peterson recognizes Twitchell for his role in preserving the Tlingit language. Below: Twitchell and Worl stand side by side. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    U.S. Representative Mary Sattler Peltola, the first Alaska Native person in Congress, attended the ceremony.

    Twitchell introduced her after noting how important representation is.

    Peltola shared a message the late David Katzeek taught her children.

    "You are precious; you belong here," she called out to the hundreds of people watching and listening.

    Above: U.S. Representative Mary Sattler Peltola received a warm welcome from the huge crowd. Below: Deputy Mayor Maria Gladziszewski and City Manager Rorie Watt stand with SHI President Worl. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    The City and Borough of Juneau and Sealaska Heritage Institute successfully worked together to make the vision of Kootéeyaa Deiyí a reality.

    "First, I proposed 20 totem poles," Worl said. "Rorie walked up and down the waterfront, and asked me, could we do 30?"

    Also during the ceremony, Worl raised a proposal of changing Seward Street's name to Heritage Way.

    Below: Gladziszewski holds Worl's street name change proposal. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Deputy Mayor Maria Gladziszewski spoke at the ceremony.

    "I'm honored to be part of this historic event and represent the mayor and the entire Juneau Assembly. As you know, we're here today in Heritage Square to dedicate the first 12 of SHI's Kootéeyaa Deiyí lining our waterfront. These poles have been carved throughout southeast Alaska and the City and Borough of Juneau is privileged to be part of this monumental project," Gladziszewski said. "There are many parts to be played in a project such as this. None of us in the assembly could carve a totem pole or cast a bronze mask. But we can play a small part with our votes of support that enabled city staff to work with SHI on this project. CBJ's Parks and Recreation, Docks and Harbors, and the Administration Department have been working together with SHI for many months. SHI and CBJ share the goal of making Juneau the Northwest Coast art capital of the world."

    Below: Photos from the dances. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

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