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Totem Poles at Saxman Village

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Ketchikan has the largest collection of standing totem poles in the world.

Ketchikan has the world’s largest collection of standing totem poles, found at three major locations: the City of Saxman, Totem Bight State Park and the Totem Heritage Center. Many of the totems are replicas of older poles that were carved during the Roosevelt Administration in the early 1900s.

The Village of Saxman was founded in the late 19th century when residents of the traditional Tlingit villages of Cape Fox and Tongass decided to consolidate their communities at a new build site on Revillagigedo Island. Saxman was named after a Presbyterian teacher, Samuel Saxman, who was lost in a canoe accident while seeking the new village build site. By 1894, the village site was chosen on a protected harbor off the Tongass Narrows. A small sawmill was built, and a school and houses were constructed. Fishing and cutting lumber for the growing towns of Saxman and Ketchikan were the economic mainstays of the new village. By 1900, 142 people lived in Saxman. The community incorporated as a city in 1929.

 

During the 1930s, many totem poles and ceremonial artifacts were retrieved from the abandoned villages at Cape Fox, Tongass, Cat Island, and Pennock Island. The totem poles were restored and relocated to Saxman as part of a United States Forest Service program. The Saxman Totem Park is a now major attraction for Ketchikan area visitors. The park includes a carving center, a tribal house, and a cultural hall for traditional Tlingit dance exhibitions.

In 1976 the Totem Heritage Center was established to preserve endangered 19th century totem poles retrieved from uninhabited Tlingit and Haida village sites near Ketchikan. Those magnificent, original poles are displayed at the Center in conjunction with other totems and Native Alaskan artifacts. The Center also preserves and promotes the traditional arts and crafts of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures through a nationally-recognized program of Native Arts classes and other activities.

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Ketchikan

Ketchikan is the fifth-most populous city in Alaska with a population of more than 14,000. Known as the Salmon Capital of the World, Ketchikan is located on Revillagigedo Island, 90 miles (140 km) north of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and 235 miles (378 km) south of Juneau. This picturesque city has a total area of 5.9 square miles (15.3 km2). Its local economy is based on tourism and fishing.

The half a mile (800 m) wide Tongass Narrows channel separates Ketchikan from Gravina Island, where Ketchikan International Airport is located. The city is named after Ketchikan Creek. Ketchikan comes from the Tlingit name for the creek, Kitschk-hin, which means “thundering wings of an eagle.”

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11 Comments Post a comment
  1. RMW #

    I spent a day in Ketchikan many years ago. It rained buckets, no, more like bathtubs, the entire time but I did enjoy the totem poles.

    April 6, 2013
    • I am glad you enjoyed Ketchikan. Did you visit Ketchi Candies? Their pecan caramel patties are the best!

      April 6, 2013
  2. Wonderful history, and great photos.

    April 6, 2013
    • Thank you Angeline, the totem poles are stunning.

      April 6, 2013
  3. Thanks – it’s nice to know the ‘support’ available for this traditional form of art.
    Reminds me of the single totem pole I know about – it’s in a sculpture park in Yorkshire, England. I believe it’s the genuine thing and not something ‘mocked-up’. http://stephenhip.wordpress.com/2012/09/20/out-of-place-out-of-time/

    April 7, 2013
    • Thanks Stephen, the more I learn about First Nations culture and history, the more fascinated I become with them. First Nations peoples are truly remarkable people.

      The totem pole on your site is beautiful.

      April 7, 2013
      • In the UK we have a strong tradition of archaeology, so many of us also share an interest in where our predecessors lived and how – but we have many phases to entertain us – from stone age to Romans Vikings Saxons Normans etc.

        April 7, 2013
  4. Amy #

    Thank you so much for the tour of Ketchikan, Patricia! It’s always interesting to know the history of the place.

    April 7, 2013
    • Thank you Amy, Ketchikan is my favourite place in Alaska with Skagway a close second.

      Revillagigedo Island has only two inches of top soil, yet massive trees cover the island. There are no gardens and all food is shipped in making it very expensive to live there. I heard a gallon of milk was $10 and a loaf of bread was $5.

      April 7, 2013
      • Amy #

        Shocking prices for food… I guess they depend on tourist for income (?) I have only been Alaska once, I remember visiting Skagway.

        April 7, 2013
      • Further to my earlier reply, the prices for food are shocking. Many people living in Ketchikan are seasonal workers who leave when the cruise ships depart in late September. Stores in the downtown area are closed until May when the cruise ships return. Apparently, only a bank and a pub/restaurant remain open in the downtown area.

        April 7, 2013

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