Klawock, AK Totem-Raising

While on Prince of Wales Island for another book tour, Lorrie and I decided to take advantage of the cultural activities, including seeing some totem poles in Klawock. OK, probably not first on your list of things to do on this remote island. Most people come for the fishing, both the sport and commercial varieties. Some folks who flew up with us expressed amazement that we weren’t following that single-minded obsession. It wasn’t for lack of trying. But…

Our first excursion was to Kasaan (pronounced Kas-Ann), where we wanted to tour a recently restored longhouse. We were stopped by a momma bear — with three cubs no less — who was keeping an eye on us from high in a tree. Better to turn around. We toured the carving shed instead, where they craft canoes and totem poles as well as bent-wood boxes. And that’s where we heard about a totem raising in Klawock.

Kasaan Village Carving Shed
Bent-wood box drum, Kasaan

Klawock already has something like 21 totem poles, so there’s no lack of these magnificent creations in town. We spent part of our time at the totem pole park. The photo below doesn’t even show half of what’s there.

Klawock totem pole park

The totem raising was something else again. Part of a two-day festival, it was held at a new site, where more totems are going in. Each day, two new poles were raised. And that was just the start.

Following that was a dinner in the Klawock high school gymnasium. “It’s our native foods,” our Kasaan guide told us. “Seafood, venison, sea asparagus and fry bread.” By seafood he meant salmon, cod, pickled herring eggs and octopus. Plus rice and venison stew.

After that, there was dancing. Not at-the-hop dancing. Traditional Tlingit and Haida dancing. Four groups danced over a five hour period. Kids. Dads. Moms. Elders. They provided their own accompaniment — drums and singing, with a few call-outs added for emphasis. It’s a full day in Klawock when there’s a totem-raising, that’s for sure.

And the raison d’être is the totem raising. Here’s a video. Check it out.

P.S.: Since some of you know Lorrie — just for giggles, see how many times you can spot her!

Copyright 2019. Leland E. Hale

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