Hydaburg pole-raising. July 29-30, 2011
06 August 2011 | posted at Ketchikan
Photo: Women carrying a pole to the totem park. I’m in the second row.
All around me a moving mass of women laughed and cheered as we surged forward with the weight of the massive totem pole in our arms. Drummers and singers followed behind adding to the energy.
I was helping the women of Hydaburg carry a new totem pole from the carving shed to the totem park. The town was replacing the totem poles in their totem park. The men of the village had raised three poles the day before and now it was the women’s turn. They had won the privilege of carrying and raising the pole by beating the men in a game of tug-of-war. “They just pulled us across the line,” a man had told us in amazement.
“Keep going ladies! You’re doing great,” shouted the project leader. “You can’t stop now. You have to reach the top of the hill.” I looked ahead to see the road getting steeper and shifted my arms on the cross brace to make sure I was carrying my share. To my right on the same cross brace a teenage Haida girl walked proudly. Being even shorter than I am, she had to struggle to hold up the pole but that didn’t stop a big grin from spreading across her face.
Finally we crested the hill and the leader shouted to stop. Men with sawhorses ran in to place them under the pole. On the order of “lower the pole,” we let down our cross braces until the pole rested on the sawhorses. A cheer went up. The hardest part was behind us. I felt a sense of community as the women congratulated each other. I wasn’t just a tourist but had participated in a real accomplishment.
Steve and I had arrived at the Hydaburg Marina at 4:30 the afternoon before in a driving rain, thinking we were here for a day of foot races, canoe races and other competitions the next day. We were tidying up the boat and putting our foul weather gear away when a Native fisherman from across the dock had knocked on our hull. “You missed today’s pole-raising,” he told us. But there’s still the dinner and dances. Everyone is welcome. And we’ll be raising another pole tomorrow.” We had put our raingear back on and walked up the hill to the gymnasium. There we had watched dance troupes from Hydaburg, Ketchikan and Klawock perform with more enthusiasm than any tourist show. We’d eaten salmon, halibut and herring roe. And today I had helped carry a pole.