Hundreds of people stood in the gentle Juneau rain with their necks craned toward the sky. Their focus was not on sky, but instead on a healing totem that towered over the crowd.
AWARE, Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska , the Wooshkeetaan and L’eeneidì A’aakw Kwáan hosted a community gathering on Saturday afternoon to unveil a healing totem pole and screens carved by Tlingit master carver Wayne Price honoring survivors and victims of domestic violence and sexual assault along with their families and communities.
People gathered in raincoats and boots at the Twin Lakes Kaasei Totem Plaza to witness the two-hour ceremony. It included speeches from community leaders and representatives along with cry songs, dance performances as well as grief release and fire dish ceremonies among other acknowledgments.
Mandy Cole, executive director of AWARE, gave a speech at the event on behalf of AWARE to thank Price and all other people and groups that dedicated time and effort to bring the project to life. She said AWARE will continue to stand beside survivors who are healing or trying to heal in the Juneau community and across Alaska.
“We will hold the people in this community who are in danger and are in the middle of their own storm,” she said.
She said it’s been a project that has been multiple years in the making, first taking steps toward creation in 2016 when AWARE commissioned Price to begin the project. She said it serves as a way to recognize and honor those who have experienced sexual and domestic violence, and also Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and those affected by both.
”The healing spirit by this project is needed by more people today than ever before,” Cole said. “May this be one more light, the little light that we all need to heal ourselves, our families and our community.”
City and Borough of Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon also spoke at the event on behalf of the city, which was a major donor and contributor to the project.
“It provides an opportunity for healing on multiple levels,” she said. “It takes a community to end gender-based violence.”
As the ceremony proceeded and large tarps still covered the art beneath it, people wrote names on wood shavings from the project, which then were burned with the hope that the act brings healing to the person written on the wood. Children from the Tlingit Culture Language and Literacy Dance group also performed multiple dances at the event.
“It reminds us of the women who might have died from violence, the children who are so special and we need to remember, we want to forever keep them in our mind,” said Jacqueline Kus.een Pata, president and CEO of Tlingit Haida Regional Housing Authority.
She said healing will come from the totem pole and what it brings to the community, and said as a community in Juneau, people can come together to create love and healing for those who need it.
“It is the love that we carry together, the love that we hold together and hold each other with that allows us to remember and to keep the beauty going forward,” she said.
When the time came to unveil the project, Price spoke about his journey in creating the art, and his hopes for what the art brings to the community.
“Each chip that comes off this totem represents a life lost to domestic violence and sexual assault, but of all the chips that come off this totem, it won’t be enough,” Price said.
Price has been a carver since 1971, and has carved dozens and dozens of totem over the decades, but many of his most recent projects have been dedicated to various forms of healing. In his speech, Price spoke about his past struggles with alcoholism and drug use, and said he hopes his work can bring healing to those who need it, just as his work has brought healing to him.
“Don’t forget to come to the light,” he said. “This is a healing time, sometimes on the path you need to learn how to heal — you gotta want it, you got to pursue it. This is what I can do to bring that light.”
The ceremony came to an end with a carver’s dance performed by Price. t, He said the dance serves as the way he as an artist can release the work from his holding and into the hands of the community.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at email@example.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.