David Boxley, a Tsimshian carver from Alaska, created a totem pole for the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Boxley, who grew up in Metlakatla, along with his son Completed the Job from the museum’s Potomac atrium, where the Tsimshian dance Band Git Hoan (People of the Salmon) celebrated the unveiling.
“There’s few of us,” Boxley advised the Washington Post. “But we’re alive and well. We wanted to let people know we’re alive and well.” The totem comes with a main holding salmon, a bunch of villagers, along with an eagle the emblem of Boxleys’ clan.
The Tsimshians lived for centuries in the Canadian province of British Columbia. In the 1880s, several hundred families were led by a missionary to the Alaskan town of Metlakatla, where Boxley was born.
For many years he worked as a school teacher before realising his culture was disappearing and he needed to help it survive.
Totem pole carving was once a thriving tradition passed on through the generations, but when Boxley tried to learn the craft, nobody was alive to teach him.
He began researching the lost art, visiting museums that held examples of North-west Pacific carvings and studying the ancient designs.
“My mother’s generation was punished for speaking their own language, delivered to boarding schools and made to feel ashamed of who they were,” he says.