- Sitka, AK
- Site Type:
- Archaeology and History, Art Works, Sculptures, Historical Restoration
- New Deal Agencies:
- Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Work Relief Programs, Works Progress Administration (WPA)
- George Benson (Lkeináa), Haida craftsmen, Tlingit craftsmen
- Quality of Information:
- Very Good
- Site Survival:
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) carved a copy of the original Lakich’inei Pole during a restoration program that lasted between 1938 and 1941. The restoration was part of a larger U.S. Forest Service program focused on the conservation of totems and Native cultural assets. Many of the poles that the CCC recovered were found in an advanced state deterioration, which made conservation difficult. While restoration was the preferred approach, the CCC opted for recarving, or partial recarving, if the pole could not be salvaged. The head carver at Sitka was George Benson. The pole was restored between 1992 and 1993.
Before the CCC program, many totems had been left to deteriorate in abandoned villages, as Native populations began to migrate in search of work opportunities. Leaving old totems to rot away was a longstanding Native practice. However, few new poles replaced the deteriorating ones in the early twentieth-century, as the art of totem carving gradually disappeared due to outmigration. In his 2012 volume, The Most Striking of Objects: The Totem Poles of Sitka National Historical Park, Andrew Patrick notes that the conversion of many Natives to Christianity also contributed to the disappearance of carving traditions. Citing Alison Hoagland (1997, 182), Patrick writes that young Natives from the village of Kake got together to destroy the poles and the bones of the dead with dynamite, while the elders watched in dismay. The new CCC program enlisted the help of master carvers such as George Benson, and began to train young recruits in the craft of totem carving, thus helping preserve not only Native artifacts, but also cultural practices.
In the volume The Most Striking of Objects, Andrew Patrick describes how the New Deal brought an influx of WPA and CCC funding, which helped with the conservation of the totem poles at Sitka: “The involvement of the WPA and the CCC with Sitka’s totem poles began in January 1939. [B. Frank] Heintzleman secured WPA funding for totem pole restoration at Sitka National Monument. Work began on February 18th when Assistant Regional Forester Charles Burdick assessed, photographed, and numbered the poles. […] Funding switched from the WPA to the CCC just a month after the work first began. […] By March 22nd, 1940, all of the totem poles, except for Saanaheit’s which was still being recarved, had been refurbished or replaced.”
The National Park Service information page for the Sitka National Historical Park summarizes the characteristics and history of the pole: “Although the top figure of this pole is the subject of an ancient Tlingit legend, recent research indicates the original pole is from Sukkwan, a Kaigani Haida village that borders southern Tlingit country. Haida carvers may have learned of Tlingit crests and legends through travel, trade, and intermarriage, and incorporated them into poles carved for their own villages.
The top figure, Lakich’inei is pressing one of his children, who was half-human and half-dog, against his coat made from the spine of a fish, killing the child. The mid-pole figure appears to be Bear Who Married a Woman, also a legend found among the Tlingit, and the bottom figure is Bear with a snail or shrimp-like creature in his mouth.
Park records from 1939 indicate large areas of decay in the original pole that was donated by Johnny Kanow-Jones in 1903. Experts believe this pole is a copy of the original.”
National Park Service, Sitka National Historical Park, Totem Trail, accessed August 24, 2017.
National Park Service, Sitka National Historical Park, Lakich’inei Pole, accessed August 24, 2017.
Larry Rakestraw, Totem Pole Restoration, Interview with Linn A. Forrest, August 1, 1971.
Hoagland, Alison K. "Totem poles and plank houses: reconstructing native culture in southeast Alaska." Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture 6 (1997): 174-185.
Patrick, Andrew. "The most striking of objects: the totem poles of Sitka National Historical Park." (2002), p. 104-121.
Site originally submitted by Brent McKee on August 24, 2017.
At this Location:
- Sitka National Historical Park, The Mosquito Legend Pole - Sitka AK
- Sitka National Historical Park, Trader Legend Pole - Sitka AK
- Sitka National Historical Park, Frog/Raven Pole - Sitka AK
- Sitka National Historical Park, Saanaheit Pole - Sitka AK
- Sitka National Historical Park, Gaanax.ádi/Raven Crest Pole - Sitka AK
- Sitka National Historical Park: Totem Conservation Exhibit - Sitka AK
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