The Raising of the Story Pole
On Thursday, June 8, 1996, approximately 500 Puyallup tribal members, friends, and Chief Leschi Schools employees, witnessed a special blessing and raising of the Chief Leschi Schools story pole. Our pole is made of cedar and stands 36 feet high. It has been approximately 150 years since the Puyallup Tribe has raised a traditional story pole. The raising of our story poles represents the revival of our Native American arts and nearly forgotten traditions.
As the story pole was raised on that day, a hawk and an eagle circled the sky above the pole, signifying an omen of good things to come for the future. Speakers talked of days in the past when Native Americans were badly treated and the assimilation that was forced upon tribes. Today, there is hope that Native American children will be given the chance to freely express and maintain their heritage.
On the top of the story pole sits Golden Eagle, below him are his squabbling wives, Black Bear and Giant Woman. Below them are two black whales. They represent one legend of how the Pacific Northwest was created:
Long ago, before people came to the Pacific Northwest, lived the creators of the world, Golden Eagle, Black Bear, and Giant Woman. Black Bear and Giant Woman were the wives of Golden Eagle and were very jealous of each other. In one of their arguments and battles, they created the shape of the world. When Giant Woman chased Golden Eagle, he dragged his claws through the earth and formed the mountains. After a great flood, two black whales were trapped in a lake on Mount Takopid or Mount Rainier. The whales were lonely and missed their people. They swam right through the mountain, plowing their way to the Puget Sound. The channel they dug became the Puyallup River.
There were a handful of carvers who worked day and night on our story pole for six months. They were lead by a young carver named, Shaun Peterson. At the time our story pole was carved, Shaun was only 21 years old and selected by a panel of elders to uncover a lost carving tradition. Since that time Peterson has grown into his role as a leading artist building on the traditions of his Puyallup/Tulalip heritage. He is an enrolled member of the Puyallup Tribe and at the time of carving the pole, he was also an employee working in the Culture department. Today Shaun serves on the advisory board of the Bill Holm Research Center of Northwest Coast Native Art and speaks at universities throughout the region about Puget Sound native art and culture. He continues to work closely with his Puyallup tribal community in arts and administration.
Throughout our school, you will see many wall mural designs that Shaun has designed and help paint. His designs are also found in many tribal publications and on our computers, as graphics. He credits some of his carving abilities to the guidance he received from master carvers Steve Brown and Greg Colfax, but it was also Shaun's own drive to learn that made his carving abilities what they are today. Shaun promotes the lost arts of the Puyallup Tribe in his creations. Although many people think that the arts of the Puyallup Tribe is gone, he is determined to preserve and learn everything he can about the old traditional designs of the Puget Sound Indians.