More than 75 years after it was carved and raised, the restored Yaxté totem stands tall again within the traditional homeland of the Áak’w Kwáan Tlingit, where it overlooks the Auke Village Recreation Area within Tongass National Forest. The Yaxté (Big Dipper) totem symbolizes a “place where a strong tribe flourished.” The Áak’w Kwáan were the first people to settle in the area that is now Juneau, Alaska. The restored totem was raised on June 6 and a rededication event was held June 15.
The Yaxté totem was brought to life by in 1941 by Frank St. Clair, a Tlingit carver from Hoonah, and two Alaska Native members of the Civilian Conservation Corps. It features five carved bird faces, the face of an Áak’w noblewoman revered for averting an oncoming war assault from another tribe, and a raven at the top to represent the moiety. The totem is supported at the base by the motif of a female brown bear, which represents the Big Dipper (Yaxté) and serves as the primary crest of the Yaxté Hít (Dipper House) people of the Áak’w Kwáan L’eeneidi (Raven-Dog Salmon) clan.
Over the years, water damage and insects affected the structural integrity of the Yaxté totem. The totem also suffered the effects of stubborn woodpeckers and was damaged by arsonists and bullet holes. In the mid-1990s, the totem was restored and reinstalled, but the Forest Service took it down again in 2010 in the interest of public safety.
The Forest Service consulted with Áak’w Kwáan elders and the Douglas Indian Association to find a way to refurbish and re-erect the pole. After an assessment of the pole was done by master carver Tommy Joseph, the Juneau Ranger District proceeded with the current restoration project. Tlingit master carver Wayne Price and apprentice carver Fred Fulmer of the Hoonah Chookaneidí, a great-grandson of the totem’s original carver, restored the totem over the course of two years, beginning in 2015.
Since time immemorial, Alaska Natives have maintained their spiritual ownership of the land. Recognizing that tribes are the land’s first stewards, conservationists and users, the Alaska Region supports partnerships that integrate tribal perspectives on land management. The Alaska Region has a commitment to integrating the cultural heritage and traditional knowledge of Alaska Natives into its programs.