Traditional dancers gathered at the base of Mount Roberts Monday for a ceremony sending off the "Census Totem Pole," carved to tell the story of the 2010 Census.
This year has marked an unprecedented effort by the U.S. Census Bureau to get a complete enumeration of some of Alaska's most difficult to count populations, the widely scattered, predominately native villages throughout rural Alaska.
That included commissioning a totem pole to tell the story of the census.
Sitka carver Tommy Joseph called a census-themed totem "out of the ordinary," but said its mission and symbolism was important.
The totem itself contains representations of Raven and Eagle at either end to reflect the two Tlingit moeities that make up all the people.
"Everybody needs to be counted," Joseph said.
Also on the totem are multiple hand prints, contributed by visitors to Joseph's studio at the National Park Service's Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center in Sitka.
The Census 2010 logo of a hand, along with the motto "It's in our hands," are represented by the hand prints, Joseph said.
Those contributing the prints included a schoolteacher, a janitor, a fisherman, a judge, a weaver and a young girl, he said, reflecting the challenge.
"Everybody needs to be counted," he said.
The Census 2010 took a step towards closing down its counting operations Friday, with the shutting down of its toll-free telephone questionnaire assistance line.
Now, the Census totem will be shipped to the U.S. Census Bureau's headquarters near Washington, D.C.
Early Monday morning, before the day's four cruise ships had arrived, census officials, local dignitaries, dancers and honorary bearers showed up for the send-off. The census totem has already visited several other Alaska and Pacific Northwest communities to help the Census 2010 campaign.
State Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, and chairman of Sealaska Corp., said it was an appropriate way to mark the movement of the totem from Alaska to its permanent home at the Census Bureau's headquarters.
The totem is more than just the wood, in this case red cedar from Prince of Wales Island, from which it is made.
"The totem and the culture are the same," he said.
The complete count is important to Alaska's Native population, he said, because undercounting will result in less influence when it comes to representing rural and Native issues, he said.
"We lose representation in the Senate if we don't get a good count," he said.
Katherine Eldemar, who with Assemblyman Bob Doll chairs the city's Complete Count Committee, praised the Census Bureau for the steps it took in 2010 to reach out to the communities it has had difficulty counting in the past.
She called the team handling Alaska "outstanding civil servants."
Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, said he hoped the efforts pioneered here this year will be used in future censuses.
"I hope the Census Bureau in (2020) will bring the totem pole back to Alaska," and make a similarly strong effort at a count, he said.
Among those participating in the ceremony at the Mount Roberts Tramway, owned by Goldbelt Corp., was Goldbelt Chairman Randy Wanamaker, along with Ed Thomas of the Tlingit-Haida Central Council and Kake Tribal Corp.'s Harold Martin.
As the honorary bearers carried the totem pole out of the building to begin its trip east, the Children of All Nations dance group sang.
Then, having seen the totem pole off to its new home, and with the Golden Princess moving in to dock, the traditional dancers left and turned the waterfront over the day's influx of tourists.
Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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