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

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment 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.
Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Agei
X
Elizabeth Lee
July 20, 2014 2:36 AM
Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.
Video

Video Diplomatic Crisis Grows Over MH17 Plane Crash

The Malaysia Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine is drawing reaction from leaders around the world. With suspicions growing that a surface-to-air missile shot down the aircraft, there are increasing tensions in the international community over who is to blame. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Undocumented Immigrants Face Perilous Journey to US, No Guarantees

Every day, hundreds of undocumented immigrants from Central America attempt the arduous journey through Mexico and turn themselves over to U.S. border patrol -- with the hope that they will not be turned away. But the dangers they face along the way are many, and as Ramon Taylor reports from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, their fate rests on more than just the reception they get at the US border.
Video

Video Scientists Create Blackest Material Ever

Of all the black things in the universe only the infamous "black holes" are so black that not even a tiny amount of light can bounce back. But scientists have managed to create material almost as black, and it has enormous potential use. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Fog Collector Transforming Maasai Water Harvesting in Kenya

The Maasai people of Kenya are known for their cattle-herding, nomadic lifestyle. But it's an existence that depends on access to adequate water for their herds and flocks. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA, on a "fog collector."

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

New Orleans-based Water Seed joins Shawna Renee inside the "Soul Lounge" where they introduce listeners to their latest album, a wonderful fusion of jazz, soul and rhythm & blues. The group also explains how the heart of New Orleans influences each of them as musicians and songwriters.