Shame poles get partisan with Tlingit carvers


Social media photo by Christina Cranston, the co-carver of the pole.

They’re calling it a ridicule pole for Gov. Michael Dunleavy and President Donald Trump, Tommy Joseph, a Sitka Tlingit master carver, told KCAW radio in Sitka. Or a shame pole, if you prefer.

Joseph and his carving partner Kristina Cranston say they’re trying to shame the governor for his vetoes of a budget — an event that has paralyzed the Legislature for months. Sunday will  be the 194th day of legislative session.

The carvers, upset over Republican leaders, worked with the tools they have and made a ridicule totem.

The shame poles of spending growth: The Alaska State Budget’s unrestricted general fund spending on agency operations since 1975, with the current veto shown in red.

The shaming totem poll has captured the attention of the media, as it should, but conservatives have quietly responded, asking Must Read Alaska unanswerable questions:

  • Where’s the shame poll for the most recent former lieutenant governor, who was forced out of office?
  • Is there a shame poll for the Hoonah man who killed two policemen.
  • How about the Angoon man who sexually abused a six-year-old?

There are some things that just cannot be talked about.

Former Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott displayed large artwork of a new shaming pole that featured William Seward, the Secretary of State who pushed for the purchase of Alaska from Czarist Russia. The art was prominently featured right outside the Office of the Lieutenant Governor for half of his tenure in office, and he said it would help bring closure for a shameful part of Alaska history.

[Read: New art at lieutenant governor’s office honors shaming of William Seward]

But at the end of his tenure, Mallott was forced from office for unsavory overtures toward a teenager.

Totem poles are a relatively new development in Northwest Native art. Before the introduction of metal tools in the 18th Century, which were brought by Europeans, totem poles were the size of a walking stick.

As metal tools became available through interaction between Natives and explorers, the poles developed into the monument sizes we see today — large, impressive, and now full of political commentary about those of European heritage.

Earlier this month, Tommy Joseph and other Native artists and their friends draped totem poles in black shrouds to protest the death of art in Alaska with the defunding of the Alaska State Council on the Arts.

But as time has shown, art is not dead at all. It’s just taken a partisan turn.



  1. I would say Seward saved the native peoples of Alaska from being a serf or slave laborer under czarist Russia being taxed to the hilt involuntary conscription and seeing all of their hard earned wealth going back to Russia. Didn’t we have Russian asylum seekers coming here in the fifties and receiving a huge government hand out that none of the regular pioneers or homesteaders recieved?

    • John,
      You are right about the native people of Alaska being rescued by America. You are also right about the Russian asylum seekers moving into Alaska, with uncommon American/Alaskan government support. They (Russians) now have their own community near Homer. They refuse to assimilate into American traditions/culture and they maintain a separate, Russian lifestyle/culture and language, with “outsiders”, or Americans/Alaskans, not welcome. They depend upon, mostly, commercial fishing enterprises to support their non-American way of life. Most of their fishing vessels are home built, sub-standard, unsafe and dangerous (called the ‘blue’ fleet). Nevertheless, they are not typically interfered with by any authority. Of course, they welcome government aid/assistance that has not been available to American citizens or Alaskans. Southeast Alaskan natives (majority) are somewhat similar in outlook and opinion about Americans/Alaskans, especially whites. The majority dislikes whites, especially men, intensely. That doesn’t make them adverse to government handouts and free everything that whites don’t enjoy. Of course, there are exceptions, but like leftist politics, they mostly stick together in policy, tradition, outlook and dislike of whites. This is the voice of experience. I’ve been there, experienced it, first hand. There are many southeastern natives that don’t fit the description. The majority do. Not to badmouth, but state fact.

  2. The shameful part of Alaskan history is right now. The elected ‘representatives’ of the people are doing everything but representing Alaskans. Instead, they have developed into a “shameful” group of special interest promoters. I don’t recall, in all my years in Alaska, ever seeing or hearing of such a collection of disgrace to the citizens and State of Alaska. Yes, I’m talking about the dims/socialists trying to thwart or actually overthrow our duly elected Governor. And for what? For trying to save Alaska and avoid forcing us and our descendants to pay for their wasteful mistakes. When right is right and wrong is wrong, those ‘carvers’ should reflect that, not partisan, wasteful, socialistic policies/politics. Just like the leftists trying to destroy our entire country. How about “shame poles” for the ones behind the socialist, terroristic, shameful actions there? How about “shame poles” for the ones who would discredit every heroic, patriotic American who founded and has died for this country, to give the ‘carvers’ and every other citizen the tools and rights to express their disgust/hatred against anyone with a white skin, European ancestry or different political opinion? To single out anyone not agreeing with whatever opinion others have or for the color of their skin is not ‘art’. Its racist, bigoted, asinine, anything but art. My opinion.

  3. Why does the face on the totem look like algore? I get algore having a shame totem, he’s earned it.

  4. Raven v. Eagle. The two clans use big sticks and out-of-work artists to make a political statement about white man. Who cares? Totem poles are at the lowest wrung of technology. If the SE Natives wanted to project shame with art, let them make a gigantic phallic symbol, using Sitka Spruce, with Byron Mallott’s face at the top. Here, they could prove no racism intended with the finished product.

      • Mallott…..a statue, made out of a little phallic totem pole, to represent the sum total of the Walker years in Alaska: a Big D**k Head.

  5. It’s amazing that the Russian exploitation of Alaskan Natives seems to be only a footnote, when there are reports so much worse than anything that ever occurred with American Indians. One account has early Russian explorers (mostly soldiers) making a contest of lining up Natives and then shooting the first one to see how many bodies their shot would pass through.

  6. This is 2019. Shaming of conservatives is expected, be they white or non-white. There isn’t a big market for shaming Leftists, but if you do, the rule is that they cannot be non-white, because that’s racism.

  7. Misdirected shame carver man. You’ve taken the tradition of centuries of your ancestors and cheapened it with your partisan politics. That is what I find shameful.

  8. Garnet, 100 years from now, some Alaskans will see this totem pole and remember that Dunleavy was a great governor. But you are right, the politics within Native culture has been cheapened. Dunleavy’s wife is full-blooded Alaska Native. Byron Mallott is a full-blooded sexual abuser of women and young women in particular. THIS is Native shame.

  9. Every sort of art can be and has been used to express every sort of political view. Musical duo Seals and Crofts sang “Unborn Child,” a hit song speaking against abortion. Entertainer Eddie Cantor’s performance of “The Dumber They Come” explains his view that liberal colleges destroy romance and femininity. Painter Jon McNaughton has an entire series of paintings supporting conservative causes and values; in fact, he’s been called the Trump Administration’s Unofficial Artist by Here is what Mr. McNaughton says about his art, “I want the world to know what I think and feel–that’s why I painted it!”

    Mr. McNaughton’s statement explains why politics can get into art. It is important to remember that all sorts of art forms communicate convictions, beliefs, loyalty to causes, and criticisms. It is also important to remember that “freedom of speech” (or expression) does not mean freedom from reaction or disagreement.

    Art engages, elicits emotions, and comes close to serving as a universal human language. I will probably never have a face to face conversation with carvers Tommy Joseph and Kristina Cranson, Jim Seals and Dash Crofts or Jon McNaughton, but their art tells me about their beliefs, feelings, and priorities. That means my worldview considers other people’s perspectives. Sometimes, that refines my ability to defend my views and other times, it shores up what I think. Both reactions make me a better thinker and communicator. Both reactions help me experience the full range of what freedom of speech (or expression) offer.

  10. What was once a way to honor one’s heritage has now been perverted by shameless panderers to partisan politics. Nothing very noble about these “artists.”

  11. How come everyone saying, America save the Natives. From the Russians?
    For heaven’s sake, they were already living here, taking care of their own, minding their own business,
    the Russians, and the European “grave robbers.” The only thing that they did was, spread diseases, abuse the women, and steal all their stuff .

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