Sitka Pioneer Home
The Totem Square Project
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) awarded $307,910 to the contractor CBC Construction of Sitka to make improvements to Totem Square, located in front of the Sitka Pioneer Home. The Totem Square land is owned by State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and by memorandum of agreement the Alaska Pioneer Homes/DHSS is responsible for maintaining it. It is in statute that DHSS cannot own public lands and DNR may, thus the multi-department initiative. In addition, the Sitka Pioneer Homes is on the National Historical Registry, which includes Totem Square and there are historical guidelines and considerations that must be adhered to.
The original intent for the Totem was to commemorate the peace treaty that Alexander Andreyevich Baranov helped broker in 1805 after this battle between the Russians and the Tlingit Indians. The pole was commissioned by the U.S. Forest Service 135 years after a pivotal battle that ushered in the peace talks. The pole was made at the request of local Tlingit leaders of Sitka's Kiksadi clan as a project of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a work program that was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 'New Deal" launched during the Depression to put people to work. The pole was carved in Wrangell much to the disappointment of the Sitka tribes since Wrangell and the Sitka tribes had a long history of conflict. This resulted in a long standing controversy over the appropriateness of the naked image depicted on the pole.
The current project will bring the square up to safety codes, improve access for people with disabilities, upgrade a fence along the existing seawall, improve drainage and add two sidewalks, new curbs, landscaping and lighting. In addition, the unstable Baranov Totem Pole will be brought down as part of the safety upgrade.
During construction, the totem pole will be displayed at the Geodetic House, 210 Seward St. A wood conservator will do a condition assessment on the pole while it is horizontal to determine if the original pole can be restored and erected again, or whether it needs to be replaced. Whether or not the original pole is reinstalled in Totem Square remains to be seen. There are many interested parties in this project and the final fate of the historically controversial totem will be decided by local Sitka tribes and the historical society.
Totem pole designed in 1940 by George Benson stands in front of the Pioneer Home in downtown Sitka's Totem Square.