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Wrangell, Alaskaâ€”Over a series of three daysâ€”August 29, 30, and 31, 2011â€”the Wrangell Cooperative Association (WCA) took down most of the totem poles on Shakes Island for refurbishing. Many of the totems also needed to be moved in order to replace the tribal house. Others were leaning and threatened to fall on the house during the typical fall and winter storms.
The three days of activities began with ceremonies on Shakes Island on August 29, 2011. Leading the ceremonies were Marge Byrd, Dawn Hutchinson-Stevens, Virginia Oliver, and Joel Churchill. Master carver Wayne Price, here assisting with the project from Haines Alaska, and other local tribal members also participated while a small audience watched the event. Among the audience was a descendent of Baron Ferdinand von Wrangel, for whom the town is named.
Traditionally, totem poles are left to return to the earth naturally so there is no specific Tlingit ceremony for taking them down. The elders, who were dressed in Tlingit regalia, spoke to each pole while brushing cedar boughs, used traditionally in ceremonies, across the poles. “We told the poles that they had to come down, that they are rotting,” said tribal elder Marge Byrd. “We told them that we’ll fix them up. We needed to prepare them.” The ceremonies concluded with the arrival at high tide of a barge, owned and piloted by local Gary Allen, bringing heavy equipment to use in taking down the totem poles over the next several days.
The first totem poles were taken down on August 30, 2011 beginning with the three smallest poles: the Bear Up the Mountain totem, the Double Whale Crest Hat totem and the Undersea Bear totem. Because they are small, these totems did not require the use of the large crane located on Gary Allen’s barge. At high tide, the barge arrived at the Northwest corner of the island and tied up to a previously placed anchor buoy. The crane was attached to the Eagle totem, which is not in the way of construction but was ascertained by master carver Wayne Price as needing repairs. After digging around the base with the back hoe and then tugging with the crane for several minutes, the totem was finally cut through at the base with a chain saw. The Eagle totem was then secured to the front of the barge and then brought to the West side of the island and laid on the lawn behind the tribal house. The barge and crane then departed for the day.
The pair of Chief Kadashan totems, the Crane totem and the Red Snapper totem, were taken down by crane on August 31, 2011. Again arriving at high tide, Gary Allen this time brought the barge and crane to the East side of the island. These totems have been leaning a little more each year and came out easily with a little side-to-side motion from the crane. They were also laid on the lawn behind the tribal house.
The Three Frogs totem is newer and located away from the tribal house. It is now the only totem left standing on Shakes Island.