I hope if you are ever a visitor to our NW shores that you have a chance to visit these revered sites. Re-writing and “righting” history is a serious task at hand taking place all over our lands..
The Pioneer Square totem pole, also referred to as the Seattle totem pole and historically as the Chief-of-All-Women pole, is a Tlingit totem pole located in Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle, Washington.
The original totem pole was carved in 1790 and raised in the Tlingit village on Tongass Island, Alaska to honor the Tlingit woman Chief-of-All-Women. The totem pole was later stolen by Seattle businessmen on an expedition to Alaska and subsequently gifted to the City of Seattle in 1899 (?), where it was raised in Pioneer Square and became a source of civic pride. The totem pole was later damaged by arson and a replica was commissioned and installed in its place in 1940, which is now designated a National Historic Landmark.
A criminal act, described as “rescuing” from an “abandoned” village, from such fine upstanding civic men leaders. Here’s the “real story.” It was quite an unusual totem pole in that it was a women’s story. For this reason, the story is being resurrected.
As unusual as this is, there is also a smaller totem carving of a women at the Deception Pass Park that honors a young Salish woman.
Walk toward the Rosario Head trail and you can’t miss the “Maiden of Deception Pass.” This 24-foot-tall, 5-foot-wide cedar log carving is an homage to the Samish legend of Ko-kwal-alwoot, a young woman who chose to live undersea to ensure that her village would never go hungry.
Look for subtle differences. On this side of the story pole, Ko-kwal-alwoot is depicted as a young Samish woman. On the other side (see photo above), she has transitioned to life undersea, with kelp in her hair and shellfish attached to her body. (Brangien Davis/Crosscut)
Anacortes sculptor Tracy Powell carved the story pole from a red cedar tree donated by the U.S. Forest Service, working under the careful guidance of Samish elders. (Powell is not Native; the elders agreed to his involvement because at that point no tribal members had the necessary carving skills.) It took him a year. Powell has said the process revolutionized his artmaking approach, and he was happy to be paid in sweaters hand-knit by women of the Samish Tribe.
The pole was erected in 1983 at Rosario Beach, known to have been the site of a large Samish settlement. Ko-kwal-alwoot stands there, powerful and alluring — her cedar tone gone silver, her promise of a bountiful catch visible in the fish she holds over her head, her reminder to balance human culture with wild nature still resonant.