Sitka was one of my favorite towns during my recent trip to Alaska, not as much for the array of things to do, but simply for it’s feel, it’s nature. With a promise of a general Sitka post sometime soon, I will simply say that it was the strong mix of Tlingit and Russian cultures that permeate through this otherwise adorable harbor town set amongst absolutely gorgeous surroundings. Since I just posted about my favorite Russian feature of this town, I thought I’d follow it up with a quick post about some Tlingit culture. Totem Pole Park, otherwise known as Sitka National Historical Park, was easily one of my favorite sights in Sitka. It may have been that my Canadian partner in crime had gotten wind of a free guided walk of the park, that ultimately left us with a stronger impression of the meaning of these totems than we would otherwise have gathered on our own. It may have been the setting…beautifully intricate totem poles standing proud along the trails winding through this coastal park. Again, the dampness of the forest and the peat moss underfoot gave this place an overgrown feel. But, it wasn’t. The totem poles are well cared for and carefully preserved…and they were beautiful.
While the visitor center holds many remnants of the original totems, most of the totems in the outdoor park are replicas of ones donated from native villages over a century ago. But, this doesn’t take away from the experience. These replicas are works of art, intricately carved and brightly painted. The totem poles are powerful reminders of the rich cultural history of the Tlingit people. There are four general types: crest/ancestry, history, legend and memorial poles. Every aspect of these poles have significance, which help to tell the stories of the people that carved them…if you can interpret them. Good reason to take the guided walking tour! (Or peruse the virtual tour here that gives a good background to all of the totems on the grounds.)
You can find more information about these poles, as well as a virtual walking tour here. Also, renowned totem artist and carver Tommy Joseph has a workshop and gallery, Raindance Gallery, at 205 Monastery Street which is worth a stop, if just to have a conversation with this amazing artist.