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ANCHORAGE—Braving frigid temperatures, members of Alaska Native communities took the concept "it takes a village to raise a child" to a different level on Sunday, Oct. 22, when a crowd of more than 500 gathered to raise a totem pole dedicated to healing from the Indian boarding school era. 

U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland joined the crowd as it raised The Boarding School Totem Pole after Sunday's "Road to Healing" listening session at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage. Other attendees included members of the Interior Department's team that has assisted along the Road to Healing tour, as well as Deborah Parker, chief operating officer of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, and Shelly Lowe, chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland assisted with blessing the healing totem pole. (Photo: Levi Rickert)

The Boarding School Healing Totem Pole is the first totem pole dedicated to Indian boarding school survivors, descendants, and ancestors who did not return home. The totem pole was carved this year at the Alaska Native Heritage Center by Haida master carvers Gidaawaan Joe Young and Sgwaayaans T.J. Young. The concept of this special pole was brought forth by Haida Elder Norma Jean Dunne (Haida/Tsimshian).

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Haaland and other women, including teen females, blessed the healing totem pole before it was raised. Newland helped Alaska Native men carry the totem pole from where it was carved to the spot it was raised.

Assistant Secretary Newland assisted by carrying the totem pole. (Photo: Levi Rickert)

The healing totem depicts Bear mother who can be seen clutching her two cubs while the father (in human form) sits above her, embedded in a raven’s tail. Above him, the raven is mid-transformation, at a place in between a human and a raven form. Two children rest comfortably in raven’s ears.

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This May, we are highlighting our coverage of Indian boarding schools and their generational impact on Native families and Native communities. Giving survivors of boarding schools and their descendants the opportunity to share their stories is an important step toward healing — not just because they are speaking, but because they are being heard. Their stories must be heard. Help our efforts to make sure Native stories and Native voices are heard in 2024. Please consider a recurring donation to help fund our ongoing coverage of Indian boarding schools. Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous-centered journalism. Thank you.

About The Author
Levi Rickert
Author: Levi RickertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Levi "Calm Before the Storm" Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].