The most famous native art of Alaska — which also has always interested me the most — is the carving of totem poles. Before I left Alaska yesterday I was able to see four wonderful totem poles.
One of the most interesting totem poles is in the sanctuary of my best friend’s church. John is the senior pastor of St. John’s United Methodist Church in Anchorage. On my visit to Alaska I had the opportunity to see him leading worship services for the first time.
On of the most interesting totem poles is at the right side of this photo. Carved from a 500-year-old cedar log by David Fison, one of John’s predecessors, this 17-foot “Easter Totem Pole” honors the people of the Tsimshian village of Metlakatla where he had served as interim pastor in 1965.
Most early Christian missionaries to the Indians of the Northwest Coast believed that totem poles were pagan idols that their converts must destroy. But the people never worshipped them. They used them to preserve their stories, providing an outline so the people could tell their stories for generations.
If the missionaries had understood that, they could have encouraged the translation of Bible stories in the totem poles. This is what David Fison does with his carvings.
David and Aleen Fison invited John and me to their home in Anchorage on Sunday night. There we were able to see his other totem pole, the “Christmas Totem Pole.”
Pastor David was initially concerned that the Tsimshian people might not accept a totem pole carved by a non-native. But they gave their blessing and even adopted him into the Tsimshian tribe. He is now a member of the Killer Whale Clan with the name Nadaam Nlomsk. His name means “carver of sacred things.”
After Pastor David told us the story of his carvings, he presented me with a replica of the “Easter Totem Pole” on a gold chain. It looks a lot like a cross.
Earlier John and I visited the Alaska Native Heritage Center north of Anchorage. Here is the totem pool at the center.
Then I visited the Anchorage Museum, where they have one of the oldest remaining totem poles.
I was so fortunate to see these four great totem poles during the two weeks that I visited John and Alaska. I stayed longer than I thought that I would, because John made it possible for me to experience so much.