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Watch: The Totem Pole Carver

Nisga’a craftsman Mike Dangeli demonstrates the tools and techniques he uses to carve totem poles. These poles have served memorial purposes for Indigenous tribes for millennia.

Breathing Lives into Wood

Mike Dangeli, a First Nations artist and craftsman from the Nisga’a tribe in Western Canada, has devoted his life to preserving Indigenous history in masks, dance, song, and, mostly now, by carving ornate totem poles. The poles, a tradition that Dangeli says date back to creation, are meant to honor important moments in Indigenous history—both the treasured and the painful.

Written by JEFF GREENWALD
Photographed by JEFF GREENWALD and CHERYL SUMSION

Regalia for All Seasons

Mike Dangeli’s Chilliwack home is a gallery of First Nations art. Every wall and shelf showcases tribal regalia carved, painted, and/or woven by Dangeli himself, one of his sons, or another Pacific Northwest artist he admires. His own output is enormous; at one point Dangeli was producing 40 to 60 major pieces a month. “There…

Preservation or Exploitation?

From the early 1880s until the middle of the 20th century, while many Indigenous children were taken from their tribes and imprisoned in residential schools, another First Nations population—totem poles themselves—were locked up in museums. One impressive collection is held at the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology, where Karen Duffek serves as Curator…

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