Poling place: Totem pole carved for Juneau’s centennial gets a new home

It’s safe from the elements and will be back on display soon

Moving is never easy. That’s especially true when moving a 40-foot, 2,000-pound totem pole.

According to Beth Weigel, director of the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, it took two forklifts, a large crane, a flatbed truck and a team of workers to move the Wooshkeetaan Kootéeyaa (totem pole) to its new location inside the atrium of the State Office Building.

“It was difficult,” Weigel told the Empire by phone last week. “It was a little tricky to get it placed onto the plaza.”

The move took place on Oct. 15, to allow time for the pole to lay flat and adjust to the new climate before it’s installed in November.

A celebration to rededicate the pole will be held after installation, Weigel said.


Weigel said that the totem pole was commissioned in 1980 as part of the City and Borough of Juneau’s Centennial celebration.

According to a 2020 newsletter from the City Museum, the Juneau Centennial Art Commission purchased or commissioned 67 original art pieces to mark the occasion. Works included 17 paintings, seven drawings, three weavings, two carvings, 31 prints from photos, a mural, a windowpane, woodblocks, silkscreens, a sculpture and two 40-foot totem poles.

Celebrated artist Yéil Yádi Nathan Jackson, who was in the early stages of his career at the time, won the commission and created two poles — the Wooshkeetaan Kootéeyaa and the Áak’w Kootéeyaa — with assistance from artists Steve Brown and Dorica Jackson.

At the time, the Centennial Art Commission did not have a display location established for the poles.

Weigel said that after much discussion, both were raised in front of Centennial Hall in 1983.

Over time, the salt water, wind and rain took a toll on the pieces, and museum officials feared deterioration.

“There was concern about keeping them up outside. Weigel said. “Our goal is to preserve them.”

On the move

In 2003, the Áak’w Kootéeyaa was taken down and re-installed inside Juneau-Douglas High School, according to Weigel. (The name of the school was officially changed to Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kalé in 2019.)

In 2016, the Wooshkeetaan Kootéeyaa was taken down and moved to storage to prevent deterioration, she said. It’s been in storage since then as museum officials looked for a new place to display it.

“We have an interest to see it conserved and back up,” Weigel said.

Thanks to a partnership between the City Museum, the Áak’w Kwáan Wooshkeetaan and the State of Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, the Wooshkeetaan Kootéeyaa will be on display again — and safe from the elements — beginning in mid-November.

“We’ve had lots of conversations about where to put it. That’s only one of a few places that can accommodate it,” she explained.

According to a news release from the museum, financial support for the installation came from the Rotary Club of Juneau, the Friends of the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, and a grant from Museums Alaska’s Collections Management Fund, supported by the Rasmuson Foundation.

Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

Workers move the Wooshkeetaan Kootéeyaa (totem pole) through the state office building on Oct. 15. After a few weeks of laying flat so that it can adjust to the climate inside the building, the totem pole will be raised and a celebration will be planned. (Michael Penn / For the Jundeau-Douglas City Museum)