Local church team helps raise totem pole in Alaska | SierraSun.com
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Local church team helps raise totem pole in Alaska

In August, Truckee Lutheran Presbyterian Church Alaska mission team was invited to support Metlakatla Presbyterian Church and the T’simshian First Nation in Southeastern Alaska as they raised a totem pole celebrating their 100th year of ministry. Totem poles are symbols of a community’s history, culture and traditions, commemorating family history, clans, and important events. Master Carver Wayne Hewson spent two years carving the welcome pole for the church, one arm reaching out to welcome all people, the other arm extended heavenward to welcome God, with the four clans of the tribe carved on the body of the pole.

As part of their ongoing relationship with Metlakatla Presbyterian, the Truckee Lutheran Presbyterian Church team dug the hole, poured the concrete, and jury-rigged scaffolding to hold the huge steel pole which would support the totem. On Sunday following worship, the totem was carried by members of the community to the church with drummers and dancers leading the way. Truckee Lutheran Presbyterian Church Pastor Jeanie Shaw was honored to bring greetings in Sm’algyax, the language of the T’simshian to a large, waiting crowd. The raising was followed by a traditional feast of salmon, rice, coleslaw, a Truckee family corn pudding recipe, and mountains of dessert prepared by the Truckee Lutheran Presbyterian Church team and women of Metlakata Presbyterian Church.

Another tradition of the T’simshian culture is the presentation of witness gifts. As a culture in the Pacific Northwest rainforest, paper would disintegrate. If you witnessed a celebration, wedding or memorial, the family presented you with a long-lasting gift, to commemorate the event. The Truckee team gave stuffed animals from the four clans: eagles, whales, wolves, and hand-sewn ravens as gifts to all who attended the feast.



Witness gifts are a striking tradition in the T’simshian culture. When we go to a dinner party the protocol is to bring flowers, a covered dish, or a bottle of wine. The T’simshian way is the total opposite. When you give a dinner, you present your guests with a gift to honor and thank them. For 10,000 years the Tsimshian’s have thrived by giving to one another. To honor their beautiful tradition of giving, the team brought suitcases full of homemade jams, quilts, baby blankets, and California almonds, rice, and coffee to present to the T’simshian leaders and artists who joined us for dinner.

It has not only been the climate of the Pacific Northwest that has been difficult for the T’simshian people. The U.S. government’s policy made it illegal for Tsimshian to speak their language and practice their art, dance, and song. Unfortunately, many missionaries also frowned upon their art and culture forcing European Culture along with the Gospel. Pastor Jeanie Shaw related that, “It was a huge symbol of God’s love for all people for the Church to raise a totem, the first such pole at a Presbyterian Church in Alaska.”



The TLPC Team was so honored to have participated in such a momentous occasion and deeply touched by the hospitality of the T’simshian Tribe.

Anyone interested in going on future trips with Truckee Lutheran Presbyterian Church is welcome to contact the church at TLPC.org. A rebuilding trip to Paradise is planned for October.

Source: Truckee Lutheran Presbyterian Church

Truckee Lutheran Presbyterian Church Alaska mission team was invited to support Metlakatla Presbyterian Church and the T’simshian First Nation in Southeastern Alaska as they raised a totem pole celebrating their 100th year of ministry.
Photo by Gerry McIntyre

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