PRESS RELEASE – Updated 04/21/17
On May 13, 2017, Goldbelt Heritage Foundation, a non-profit entity of Goldbelt Incorporated, and governed by GHF Board, will raise a Raven pole on the ancestral and tribal grounds of the T’aaku Kwáan, also known as the Douglas Indian Association. This pole is the first part of a memorial which will stand at Gastineau School as a reminder never to forget or commit such acts that would desecrate sacred burial grounds.
The destruction of the Douglas Island Indian cemetery and burial sites, done without consultation and without permission from the relatives of the deceased, has left an open wound in the Tlingit community which has yet to heal. In 1956 the City of Juneau Assembly voted in favor of the displacement and covering over of the Douglas Indian Cemetery to build the Douglas Highway and Gastineau School. The City and Borough of Juneau has initially offered restitution for its role in the destruction of a sacred site, sacred objects, items of cultural patrimony, and associated funerary materials. The city has engaged Dr. Daniel Monteith to write a history of how a school could be built over a graveyard. The report is nearing completion. The City has also been involved with the Douglas Indian Association and Northwest Architects to design a lasting memorial.
In the United States, until the early 1990’s, a wild-west atmosphere surrounded the disposition of Native American burial sites, cemeteries, and burial goods. Professional archeologists and amateur collectors alike looted and desecrated graves with impunity. This practice included not only ancient burial sites, but relatively recent Native American cemeteries. It was not until 1990 with the passage of the National American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) that the full protection of the federal government extended to Native American burial sites.
Juneau and Douglas are the center of an epic story of survival that withstood the ice age. “The people of the inhabited area,” or “kwáans”, are the original Tlingit residents of this area. The T’aaku Kwáan, consists of Yanyeidí, Gaanaxteidí, Ishkahittaan, Kookhittaan, Tooka.adi, Tsaateeneidi, and S’eetkweidi clans. These clans resided within the common territory now called Douglas, Alaska. Their families inhabited the land in Southeast Alaska through migration, wars, famine, and countless struggles for more than 12,000 years ago.
Clan members thrived in Southeast Alaska by harvesting a local bounty of salmon, halibut, seal and a myriad of land resources for millennia. The Tlingit held that the land, the sea, and the people are all interconnected. To destroy or change one impacts the others creating a chain effect which resonates through tribal society like a tidal wave. The resulting damage can leave homes empty without the necessities of living in Alaska such as food, clothing, and art.
Traditional laws, established by customs and ceremonies, regulated the use of the natural resources to maintain harmony. These included mortuary rites which acknowledged the clan history and reiterated the centuries old histories, legends, protocols and connections to prominent guests of the opposite moiety. These ancient mortuary rites are still honored today. Had the destruction of the cemetery taken place in pre-contact times, the village responsible for the desecration of graves, removal of heirlooms, and destruction of ancestor’s resting places would have been held accountable. The destruction of grave sites, even if an accident, was cause for restitution, and, if non-negotiable, could result in war.
To promote healing, Goldbelt Heritage Foundation (the language, arts and cultural division of Goldbelt, an Alaska Native corporation based in Juneau) applied for and received a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Native Americans, Social & Economic Development Strategies (SEDS). As part of the Ganéix Gaawú Kudzitee (A Time for Healing) project, Goldbelt Heritage Foundation, the Douglas Indian Association, and the Juneau Schools Indian Education program are placing a 26-ft. tall Raven totem pole on the grounds of the former cemetery at Gastineau School. The pole raising will take place at the former cemetery grounds at Gastineau School on Saturday, May 13, at 10:00 a.m. This is an open event and the public is invited to attend. A Time for Healing extends beyond the Native community as there is power healing for both Native and non-Native community members alike. Local and state dignitaries will be attending as Juneau comes together as a community to begin the healing. As parking is limited, the public is invited to park at the State of Alaska parking lot near the Juneau Hotel where shuttle bus transportation will be provided to the totem raising site.
Clarence “Butch” Laiti, President of Douglas Indian Association, thanks Goldbelt Heritage Foundation for acknowledging the need for healing and restitution. “The DIA Elders, Council, and I have been carrying this burden for too long. The trauma of grave desecration, the burning of the Douglas Indian Village, and the loss if fishing rights have left open wounds. The raising of this pole is the first step of many to restore peace, dignity, and respect.”
The Ganéix Gaawú Kudzitee project will also speak to the burning and destruction of the Douglas Indian Village. In 1962, the municipal assembly ordered the burning of the houses in the village to make way for Savikko Park and Pusich Harbor. The majority of village residents, who had traveled down the Taku River for seasonal fish camp, came home to find their houses and personal belongings destroyed. No reimbursement nor reparations were ever offered to the displaced residents by the municipality. A second memorial totem pole is being produced by the master/apprentice carving program to be raised at a Native plaza at Savikko Park. This Eagle totem pole is being carved as a memorial honoring the people who lost their homes in the destruction of the Douglas Indian Village. Both poles are being carved at Juneau School District facilities to introduce youth to traditional arts and local Tlingit history.
Ganéix Gaawú Kudzitee also seeks to improve community Elders’ lives and to help youth understand the past. Elder Gatherings will be held annually to focus on the documentation of history of Haa Aani, our land. Elders will be videotaped as historical documentation for the education of youth and to support the health and well-being of future generations. In collaboration with partners, cultural specialists will provide education about the language and culture of the village inhabitants who were displaced. Ganéix Gaawú Kudzitee will collect video and still photo documentation of a traditional arts manual on totem pole carving intended to be a living document that reinvigorates traditional arts. The project will include a major display at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, the raising of both poles in 2017, and will culminate with a community-wide healing Ku.éex’ (celebration) in 2018. Goldbelt Heritage Foundation Executive Director Dionne Cadiente stated, “This project will work towards remedying and addressing historical trauma through annual Elders’ gatherings, undo years of silence, document and perpetuate traditional arts, and educate youth in history, Haa Aani (Our Land), migration, and identity.
PRESS RELEASE – Updated 10/14/15
Wáa sá iyatee.
Goldbelt Heritage Foundation is pleased to announce a $1.15 three-year award from the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Native Americans, Social & Economic Development Strategies (SEDS). A Gaawooya Yei Shtoosneixhji, A Time for Healing will commemorate and honor the precious souls of the Douglas Indian Cemetery, paved over or relocated in 1956 and the inhabitants of the Douglas Indian Village, removed in 1962. Goldbelt Heritage Foundation Executive Director Dionne Cadiente-Laiti stated, “This project will work towards remedying and addressing historical trauma through annual elders’ gatherings, undo years of silence, document and perpetuate traditional arts, and educate youth in history, Haa Aani, Our Land, migration and identity.”
The A Gaawooya Yei Shtoosneixhji project will restore and preserve traditional arts through the completed carving of two memorial totem poles through the efforts of a master/apprentice carving program resulting in a Native plaza and towering totem pole at Savikko Park and, at Gastineau Elementary School, a memorial pole honoring the people. The poles will be carved at Juneau School District facilities to introduce youth to traditional arts interwoven with education and instruction about historical occurrences.
A Gaawooya Yei Shtoosneixhji seeks to improve community elders’ lives and to help youth understand the past. Elder Gatherings will be held annually to focus on the documentation of history of Haa Aani, our land, and also inform video documentation for the education of youth and to support the health and well-being of future generations. This project will speak to the displacement and covering over of the Douglas Indian Cemetery to build the Douglas Highway and Gastineau School, and the removal of the Douglas Indian Village to make way for Savikko Park and Pusich Harbor. The Native plaza at Savikko Park and the Gastineau School site will include interpretive signs explaining the history of the area in both English and Tlingit.
In collaboration with partners, specialists will provide education about the language and culture of the village inhabitants who were displaced. A Gaawooya Yei Shtoosneixhji will include full video and still photo documentation that lends to the completion of a historic document and traditional arts manual on totem pole carving to be a living document that reinvigorates traditional arts. The project will align with a major display at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum and the raising of the poles in 2017, and will culminate with a community-wide Koo.eex (celebration) in 2018.
This proposal required community match. The Goldbelt Heritage Foundation Board thanks the Douglas Indian Association, the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, the Juneau Community Foundation, the Margaret Frans Brady Fund, Juneau Parks and Recreation, the Juneau School District, Corvus Design, AML/Lynden Transport, North Pacific Erectors, Trucano Construction, and Sealaska for their generous assistance and support.
Goldbelt Heritage Foundation is the language, arts and cultural division of Goldbelt, an Alaska Native corporation based in Juneau, Alaska.
Randy Wanamaker – $200 donation
Contact Fred White for more information on ways to be involved.