News / Arts & Entertainment

Totem Pole Art Preserves Native American Culture

Native American artist David Boxley is from the Tsimshian tribe in Alaska, and he and his son work on one of the many totem poles they have created to keep their native culture alive, at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, Januar
Native American artist David Boxley is from the Tsimshian tribe in Alaska, and he and his son work on one of the many totem poles they have created to keep their native culture alive, at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, Januar
Jeff Swicord

In the mid to late 18th century, missionary schools were opened on Native American reservations in the U.S. The goal was to convert young people to Christianity and immerse them in Western culture. Native languages and culture were discouraged. Over decades, many grew up knowing little about their culture or languages. One Tsimshian tribesman has dedicated his life to keeping his native culture alive.

David Boxley is a Native American artist from the Tsimshian tribe in Alaska. He's a dancer, songwriter, and wood carver. More importantly, he's an ambassador for Tsimshian culture and heritage.

“We call it art now, but it was a way for people to say, 'This is who I am. This belongs to me.' Or 'This is my clan, this is my crest, this is my family history, carved and painted in wood.'”

Boxley was raised by his grandparents. He said Christian missionary influence was strong while he was growing up. So he learned little about his native culture.

While working as a teacher after college, he began researching Tsimshian wood carving in ethnographic materials and museum collections.  In 1986, he left teaching to devote his time to wood carving and reviving Tsimshian art and culture.

“I guess I came along at the right time. Our people really needed a shot in the arm. Our culture wasn’t very prominent after all that missionary influence, and years and years of not having anybody be in that kind of position to guide,” said Boxley.

Almost 30 years later, he's putting the finishing touches on his 70th totem pole, which will stand in the permanent collection at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

“We don’t use sandpaper. We use the knives and the chisels to get it as smooth as possible. Get the lines clean,” said Boxley.

Totem poles tell a story. This one is carved from a seven-meter-long piece of red cedar. Boxley began carving it several months ago at his home near Seattle in Washington state. It was shipped across country by truck.

“The title is Eagle and the Young Chief,” said Boxley.

The pole tells the story of a young chief who rescued an eagle snared in a fishing net. Years later, when the Chief’s village was starving, the eagle repaid the chief for his kindness.

“A live salmon fell out of the sky, and he looked up and he saw the eagle flying away. And every day for days and days, the eagle brought salmon to feed the village,” said Boxley.

Boxley said the pole he carved in honor of his grandfather is closest to his heart. This one is a close second.

“This one is going to be seen by millions over the next hundred years. And it is not just me and my son; it is all of my people that are proud … my tribe,” said Boxley.

On the day the pole was unveiled, Boxley’s dance troupe of family and friends performed for a large audience.

Then, the unveiling.

Boxley has other wood carvings in the permanent collection of the museum. This one ensures Tsimshian culture will have pride of place in native American history.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Secret Service Head to be Questioned Over White House Intruder

Julia Pierson will be questioned about the latest break-in well as several other embarrassing incidents involving the agency More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

Matthew Wade sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to talk about his new CD, “Diamond from Coal,” his fourth album with his band, My Silent Bravery.