For centuries, totem poles have stood as recorded histories. In the absence of written language, they passed important stories between generations. That's why, after spending years pastoring Alaskan congregations, retiree the Rev. David Fison felt called to carve what he considers one of the greatest stories ever told. We sat down with the artist in 2002.
(Locator: Anchorage, Alaska)
David Fison: "I felt the Christmas story should be told in a totem pole."
With a slab of cedar from Ketchikan, and hours of research into native Alaskan history, the Rev. Fison began to tell the story as he thinks the natives would have.
David Fison: "This is trying to recapture how it might have been if someone had been sensitive enough to their culture and said to a carver, 'Let's translate the Christmas story.'"
Because angels weren't familiar to the culture, the Rev. Fison chose Raven, the messenger of the Great Chief of the heavens, to tell the Indian maid, Mary, she'd be mother of the Messiah.
Joseph holds a paddle to signify the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
David Fison: "When they traveled between villages, they always traveled by dugout canoe, so that's symbolic of that journey."
Many of the characters take different forms than most of us know, but the story itself is the same.
David Fison: "To me it was a great spiritual experience."
It's one that a retired minister felt honored to tell, to take its place among the other significant stories of a proud and rich culture. In Anchorage, Alaska, I'm Kim Riemland reporting.
Small reproductions of the Christmas totem pole are now found all over the world, including in the Vatican. The Rev. Fison also carved the Easter story into a totem pole. The Christmas and Easter totems are located at St. John United Methodist Church in Anchorage, Alaska.
To contact St. John United Methodist Church in Anchorage, call 907-344-3025.
This video was originally posted in December of 2002.