During the holiday season, KHNS is airing StoryCorps segments recorded by the Juneau Public Libraries with Haines and Klukwan residents. The first one features Wayne Price, a Haines Tlingit master carver and. He and his wife Cherri talked about his work, including a healing totem he carved in Whitehorse.
“My wife and I, she came into my life right after I sobered up,” Wayne Price said. “And we have dedicated our whole life and business to the creation of monuments.”
Many of those monuments are healing totems or dug-out canoes.
“They became a healing totem as a result of a vision in a sweat lodge that led to my recovery,” Wayne said. “The creator told me I had to do a few things…make a healing dug-out and healing totem.”
He says the healing monuments bring awareness to important subjects. For example, a totem pole he carved in Whitehorse was meant to bring healing to First Nations people who were taken into boarding schools, or residential schools, set up by the government and religious organizations. Similar things happened to indigenous people in the United States, including in Alaska, and in Australia.
“These were not very great places,” Wayne said. “The healing totem in the Yukon, we said, ‘this is our past, it is not a good story. This is the present, there is only one race, it’s the human race. We’re all here now, we’re all being aware of each other.'”
Wayne thinks, if there is going to be a wider healing among Natives in America, the U.S. government needs to apologize for the devastating toll the boarding schools took.
“It has to be acknowledged, what happened. It was government-backed, through faith-based religion, for the destruction of First Nation people — colonization. Until that happens, then this wound will never heal.”
He sees the impacts reverberating today.
“A lot of the issues that are in Indian Country now, are a direct result from what happened to them through the boarding schools. It’ll keep coming back. The suicide rate in Alaska is the highest in all the nation, and the majority of that is Native people. There has to be an awakening and an apology. It has to be recognized what really happened, and then a healing can occur.”
Wayne says even if you don’t know the history of the boarding schools, you can sit next to the totem in Whitehorse and ‘feel something.’ He thinks back to the vision that prompted his recovery from alcohol addiction and his focus on healing art.
“The creator told me, when you hear the songs of your ancestors coming across the water, you’re done.”
Wayne led a class in the Yukon in which he carved a traditional dug-out canoe with First Nations youth.
“When the kids paddled away singing, I looked at my wife and I said, ‘there it is, I have lived to see my vision complete.'”
The audio interview was produced by KHNS’s Emily Files with the Juneau Public Libraries and StoryCorps in partnership with the Haines Borough Public Library. Storycorps is a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives. More information at storycorps.org.