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Haida brothers are raising a memorial totem pole they carved for their late chief

At least 200 people will be needed to raise the 45-foot pole
On Sept. 25 Jaalen and Gwaai Edenshaw floated their 45-foot totem pole behind a boat to get it to the old village Xaayna on Maude Island, where it will be erected Sept. 30. (Photo: Mary Helmer)

On Sept. 30, after eight months of work, brothers Jaalen and Gwaai Edenshaw get to watch the raising the memorial totem pole they carved for their late chief, Gaahlaay (Watson Price).

Carved from a cedar tree, the pole is 45 feet long. It is going up at an old Haida village, Xaayna, on Maude Island, where Gaahlaay was buried.

Jaalen and Gwaai are members of the Ḵayahl ‘Laanas clan.

Tyler York, a relative of the brothers, helped carve the pole. He designed and built an eagle that will sit on the top. While York is from an opposite clan, it is not strange that he worked on it, Jaalen said.

“Usually we’d hire someone from the opposite clan, as I understand it anyway, and so because me and Gwaai are both from this clan, we wanted to have [York] doing the topper piece to sort of fulfill that.”

It is unusual to have three head carvers, he said. Cooper Wilson Jr. assisted them on the project.

Since the site where the pole is going up is only accessible by boat, they had to float it over on Sept. 25, using their other brother’s boat.

Once the pole was close to shore, more than 75 people helped pull it up onto the beach, Jaalen said.

Preparation has been going on for weeks in Xaayna. People dug the hole for the pole to fit into and cleared the area by cutting down a couple of trees, Jaalen said.

At this point, the pole is where it needs to be and Jaalen said that feels good.

“To get it over there, it’s a bit of a feat. A little bit of engineering to get it up to the spot we needed. And now it’s up to raisers, it’s up to the clan and a little bit out of our hand,” he said.

“We’re still helping out, obviously, but our jobs are done.”

To raise the pole they will need at least 200 people on the ropes.

Jaalen said he thinks it will be well attended.

This is not the first totem pole he and Gwaai worked together on. In 2011, they carved The Two Brothers Totem Pole together, which now stands in Jasper National Park. Now that the memorial is finished they are starting another one for their father, Guujaaw.

READ MORE: Haida carver Christian White raises his tallest totem pole yet at a potlatch ceremony in Old Massett

READ MORE: Twitter partners with Haida artist to celebrate Indigenous History Month

 Kaitlyn Bailey | Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
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