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Montessori School Class & Local Woodworker, With Help From Natives Program, Create Totem Pole

Kyra Buckley

On Friday Eugene elementary school students got hands on experience creating a totem pole. Kids at the Ridgeline Montessori School teamed up with a local woodworker and the 4J School District Natives program for the project.

10-year-old Michael Dickinson picks up a mallet and chisel, and chips away at a log propped up on two custom built saw horses.

Dickinson: “I’m working on carving out the totem pole. We’re trying to get off part of the back so that we can put a pole that holds the totem pole up.”

Dickinson is on the project’s design committee. He says they’ve been working on it for months.
Teacher Clint Moore says it was his neighbor Vic Hansen who inspired the project.  

Moore: “Vic Hansen lives in the neighborhood and in front of his house is a totem pole that he carved. And so we just start talking, and he’s a retired teacher and we get into his hobby, which is wood carving. And so that kind of got the wheels spinning; okay, how can I get Vic to volunteer to work with my students?”

Hansen had one stipulation before he agreed.

Hansen: “I said ‘sure, you get a log and I’ll help you do it.’ And he went out and got a log, and then I was trapped. I had to help him do it.”

Hansen suggested the class reach out to Eugene School District’s Natives program. Director Brenda

Credit Kyra Buckley
Local woodworker and retired teacher Vic Hansen volunteers his time to help the kids create their Totem Pole.

Brainard says the federally funded Natives program provides tutoring and activities for more than 12-hundred Native American students. Brainard says it also helps schools with Native American history projects.

Brainard has worked with Hansen before and says it was natural for her program to partner with Hansen and work with Moore’s class.

Brainard: “When the tree was selected we went out and did the blessing for the tree. We’ve worked with the kids on selection of different images for the totem and what different images mean, how those images can be interpreted, what may be appropriate or not so appropriate and why.”

Brainard says Natives program is 4J’s best kept secret even though it’s been around since 1972. She says Native American history is often ignored, but projects like the Montessori Ridgeline’s totem pole, give kids a hands on way to study history and culture.

Michael Dickinson and his class are still working out the details of each animal on the totem pole.

Dickinson: “It might not be done by the end of the school year, we’re not sure. But I’m only in 5th grade so I get stay in this class for another year.”