Sunday, October 27, 2013

Jamestown S'Kallam Tribe's Totem Poles

One of the reasons for traveling is to “learn things we didn’t learn in school.” Many of these lessons we learned revolved around groups who lived in this country long before Jamestown or even Columbus.

The latest lesson comes from the Jamestown S’Kallam ("the Strong People") Tribe in Blyn, WA, west of Port Townsend:
“For ten thousand years, a Nation of people lived and prospered on the lands now known as the Olympic Peninsula in the State of Washington. These strong people of the S'Klallam Tribes had a system of governance, engaged in commerce, managed natural and human resources, and exercised power over their homelands.

“…After 1870, white settlers in Washington Territory began to bring pressure upon the Bureau of Indian Affairs to move all treaty Indians to reservations. Many of the Indians merely squatted on the land, and without a clear title, were easily and frequently dispossessed. By 1874, a band of S'Klallams under the leadership of Lord James Balch…raised enough money to pay $500 in gold coin for a 210-acre tract near Dungeness, Washington Territory; thus began the Jamestown S'Klallam community.
“…Characterized as a "progressive" Indian community, (the Jamestown) Tribal citizens sought new educational opportunities and aggressively integrated into the non-Indian community and its economy. A major factor in the stability and continuity of the Tribe was the land base purchased when it was formed in 1874. This provided a geographical center for group identity and independence.
House Posts (a type of totem poles) outside the Administration Building

“The Jamestown S'Klallams received services from the Federal government until 1953, when the government no longer "recognized" them.

“(But as) the Jamestown Tribal membership…saw that fishing and hunting rights were denied them due to the lack of federal recognition…, (t)he Tribe soon realized that only through Federal recognition would they be able to provide for basic (health and educational) needs. This effort began around 1974 and was established after a long struggle on February 10, 1981.

“With the acquisition of more land and, since 1988, their involvement in a national Self-Governance Demonstration Project…, the Tribe (has achieved) more autonomy and control over Bureau of Indian Affairs funding. The Project has resulted in the Tribe being able to provide more Tribally-specific programs, services (a social services building, a dental clinic, a family health center), and activities to better meet the needs of the membership” (
The House Posts commemorate the united action between the Founding Fathers of the Tribe (left pole, photo above) and the legends and history unique to the Tribe (right pole).

As the Tribe continues to build facilities and businesses for its community, the leaders have commissioned carvers, under the direction of Master Carver Dale Faulstich, “…to design additional totems to remind our Tribal citizens of their history and heritage and to create a memorable experience for our visitors and guests” (W. Ron Allen, Tribal Chairman in the Foreword to Totem Poles of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe).
Dale Faulstich

To see how these totem poles are created, we stopped at the "House of Myths," known locally as the "carving shed," where we met Dale and his son.
Before the carving begins, Faulstich submits to the Tribal Council his concept drawings, which show both front and side views of each totem pole. The detail in these drawings was striking.
After the drawings are approved, Faulstich orders the logs for the poles. Green wood is used because it is easier to work with. Once the ends are squared off, a long notch is carved down the back of the log to relieve stresses that occur as the finished totem pole begins to dry.
Once the drawings are scaled to the length of the log, Faulstich then snaps a chalk line down the log's center front to ensure the symmetry of the finished totem pole.

He then pencils in the first broad guidelines of the shapes to be carved.
If an extension is needed to carve a beak, for example, a piece of wood is glued to the totem pole.
Faulstich carves one side of each totem figure. At each stage, another skilled carver uses a large compass to transfer key points of Faulstich's work to the uncarved side of the log. Then begins the work of matching Faulstich's model.
Tomorrow's entry will show an example of this process.

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