Eagle totem brings 'balance' to UAS campus

Posted: Sunday, April 25, 2010

Native legends say that forever ago, long before their ancestors walked, the Raven and the Eagle shared the skies, forests and streams of Alaska, bringing a balance to the world as they would jest, joust and shout above the winds and sun.

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Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

That balance was brought to the University of Alaska Southeast campus Saturday with an Eagle pole-raising ceremony. It came 18 years after a Raven pole was erected there. The Eagle totem symbolizes a school united with the community, Native peoples and their ancestors.

"We have been looking forward to this for a while," Hydaburg's TJ Young said. "We hope everybody is proud of it."

TJ, 29, and his 31-year-old brother, Joe, were chosen by the Sealaska Heritage Institute and UAS to carve the totem. They would often jump into the waters of Auke Lake after each day like their ancestors had done centuries before.

"It is about a 400-year-old tree," TJ Young said. "It came from our backyard, Prince of Wales Island. It means a lot to the Eagles on campus. It's good to have a balance of Eagle and Raven, it brings good positive energy to the campus. Things like this only help strengthen ties between cultures, between Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian - we are all cousins."

In 1993, the UAS campus received the Raven pole. Since then Native students have asked for an Eagle pole to keep it company and balance the campus. In 2009, Sealaska donated a 45-foot cedar log to the UAS campus and the student group Wooch.'een began fundraising to raise over $150,000 needed for the project. They also spent numerous months working with various Native organizations to make sure appropriate customs were followed. They worked with the elders of the Aak'w Kwaan to identify Eagle clan crests on the totem and have given special recognition to the Wooshkeetaan, an Eagle clan from the Juneau area.

"It's a privilege that the tree allowed us to work with it," Joe Young said. "It is humbling to know that the tree is big enough that my great-great- grandfather could have carved it when he was here.

"Whether you are involved in the carving or any part of the project, it is always good to be at a pole raising."

"Through time we have gathered up enough strength, and to the very institution that tried to take away our culture, we are putting up a totem pole," Yakutat native and UAS senior Gloria Anderstrom said, addressing a large audience that helped erect the totem.

Anderstrom's grandmother, Marie Shodda, was of a time when punishment's were given for speaking Native languages.

"Our culture is alive... my grandmother would be shocked today. I don't know if she can grasp the idea that we put the totem up in an institution like this school. I feel like I am doing this for her, and for generations ahead."

Today, about a quarter of the UAS's student body is Alaska Native.

"It is a really important," UAS Chancellor John Pugh said. "We knew in the beginning we needed to bring a balance to the culture here on campus."

Seemingly to grant their blessings, a pair of eagles spun in the air above the gathering and a raven flew to a tree perch. The crowd sang out in Tlingit "Wooch Yax," in Haida "litl Tlagaa", and in Tsimshian "Na Yuubm." A "balance" had been restored at the campus on Auke Lake.

• Contact Klas Stolpe at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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