Easter Totem Pole
The Reverend David K. Fison is a pastor and a storyteller who has used wood to share spiritual lessons. Fison moved to Alaska in 1961 to serve United Methodist churches. A brief 1963 appointment to a congregation in the Tsimshian village of Metlakatla near Ketchikan sparked a lifetime interest in the native peoples of Alaska. Fison says he received spiritual inspiration to carve the Christmas and Easter stories in totem poles according to the traditions of Alaska's indigenous peoples.
(Locator: Anchorage, Alaska)
The Rev. David K. Fison, St. John United Methodist Church: “I am always talking to God about it when I carve, seeking guidance. It’s almost as though a tutor over my shoulder that is guiding me. Was I the carver or was I the tool that someone else was using? You never know.
(Fison reading poem about totem pole)
Now My friend, behold the carving!
Now open up your soul,
And you will hear the story
Of the Easter totem pole.
Now the ancient Tsimshian had books for all to see
but when they wrote a story they carved it from a tree.
Now I’ve carved this sacred story
After the ancient Tsimshian,
Using only what they knew then,
In terms they would understand.
Smoked salmon was their bread;
For grains in a rainforest will not grow.
And let it be the howl of Wolf,
For they had no cock to crow.
Great Chief of the Heavens
Was their Creator’s name,
And Raven was His messenger.
To bring his word it seems.
… ‘Eat! It’s my body given for you!’
Berry juice is blessed and passed:
‘Drink of this, all of you!’
‘It’s my blood of a new treaty:
For the forgiveness of sins you see!
As oft’ as you do this,
Do it to remember me!’
So keep Him as your Chief, my friend,
And He will keep you whole.
This fulfills the purpose of
The Easter totem pole.
I’m the Rev. David K. Fison, minister emeritus of St. John United Methodist Church in Anchorage, Alaska. The idea for my totem poles came from our experiences in southeast Alaska when I was pastor of Ketchikan 1961 through 1966. When I had the pole almost carved our pastor came by and said, ‘Why don’t you bring it to church then and I’ll you do the preaching and you use the totem pole to tell the story for the sermon.’
So the Tuesday of Holy Week, the Methodist Men came to the house with a big trailer and we carted it down to the church. And when we arrived at the church, there were 20 Haida, Tlingit and Tsimshian natives in full regalia singing, drumming and chanting ‘totem pole, welcome to the totem pole.’ A totem pole had never been welcome in church before. They were quite excited about it. It was just such a beautiful experience there the native people and they offered to adopt me into Tsimshian culture.
Charley Bower, Native Alaskan: “The story that they tell is heartwarming for us. People like Dave Fison saw that there are natives there with their own way of telling stories and relating to our Creator.”
David Fison: “I needed to do it. Even though I felt that I didn’t know how I was going to get it done. But I just had faith, ‘Well, I got the Christmas one done’ and I’ll use that same faith,' I’m gonna get the Easter done.’
If you launch off in faith, prepare yourself as best you can, but don’t wait ‘til you’re perfect, but begin, make a beginning. There’s a story only you can write. Nobody else’ll write it.
If some worthy thing you want to do, I think that there are spiritual resources to help you do it.”
This March 2013 blog post by Victoria Emily Jones is a good source of information on both the Easter and Christmas totems. In 2002, UMTV brought you this video story about the Christmas totem pole which Dave Fison also carved.
For more information contact St. John United Methodist Church in Anchorage, Alaska at 907-344-3025
This story was first posted on April 10, 2014.
Media contact is Fran Walsh, at 615-742-5458.