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Students and educators welcome 4J NATIVES totem pole back to school

Group of people next to carved and painted totem pole.
Brian Bull
A group of educators and former students gathered by the newly-reinstalled totem pole in front of the Ridgeline Montessori School. From left to right: Brooke Lumbra, Michael Dickinson, Oliver Macalester, Skai Jenkins, Clint Moore, and Jordan.

Over 250 people – most of them school kids – gathered outside Ridgeline Montessori in Eugene last Friday to celebrate the return of their totem pole.

A crane lifted and maneuvered the 22-ft.-tall pole, before a crew secured it to a metal foundation. 

Students filed out of the building to watch the process from across the street.

Among those present was Vic Hansen, a master carver who’s done totem poles with schools for years, including this one. He told KLCC that it was first installed in June 2016, then taken down last summer after wear and tear took their toll.

Native educators with drum outside school.
Brian Bull
Sean Himmelman (left) and Becky White (right) watch as the totem pole is lifted and lowered into place outside the Ridgeline Montessori school. Both are equity managers for the 4J NATIVES program.

“We had to sand all the finish off, by hand…then fill in the knotholes, and repaint it," he said. "And this is the result.”

Students with the school and the 4J NATIVES program originally helped carve and paint the many animals and birds that grace the pole. Members of the NATIVES program gathered to oversee the re-installation as well, led by equity manager Becky White on the drum. 

In a statement, the 4J NATIVES program staff and leadership said they’re “so grateful” that the totem pole was able to be returned it to its home. They added that the pole is an important symbol of Native strength and resilience, and a powerful representation of “the shared value of education both in Native culture and the community.”

Three former Ridgeline Montessori students also came: Skai Jenkins, Michael Dickinson, and Oliver Macalester. All shared good memories of learning how to carve and paint.

“We’d all take turns using the chisels, and it’s really cool to see it get put back up,” said Jenkins. 

“It was one of the best experiences that you could have, a lot of public schools you’d never get an experience like this but it was so much fun,” added Dickinson. 

“Just like the joy I felt with all my friends,” said Macalester. “All the time I think of how special it was to be a part of this.”

Former NATIVES director Brenda Brainard attended. She said she has a strong affinity for the pole’s carved beaver.

“Yes, I’m from the Beaver Clan," she said. "It’s a good representation of perseverance. You know, beavers can change their environment. And so with hard work you can change your environment. But since it’s my clan, it’s always extra precious to me.”

Clint Moore was a teacher at Ridgeline Montessori when the pole was first installed seven years ago. He struggled to find words to describe his feelings about the totem pole’s restoration.

Totem pole goes back to school

“I wasn’t able to identify them until this exact moment,” said Moore, looking at the newly-installed pole. “And it’s just beauty and joy that’s just flowing out, to see the community coming back together.”

When the final adjustments were made, the crowd of 250 school kids across the street burst into cheers.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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