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City accepts John T. Williams totem into public art collection

Hundreds gathered this past Sunday at a ceremony to raise a memorial totem pole for John T. Williams. The raising and public blessing of the 34-foot totem honored Williams and Native American and First Nation tradition on the eve of Williams’ birthday. The totem is installed at Seattle Center’s Broad Street Green near the Space Needle.

For the past year and a half, John’s brother Rick Williams, along with the Williams family and the John T. Williams Totem Pole Project, have worked toward the creation and installation of the totem. The city provided public space to carve the totem, first at Seattle Center then at Waterfront Park. The Totem Pole Project gifted the pole to the city, and it’s now part of our public art collection. Williams, a First Nations woodcarver, was fatally shot in August 2010 by a Seattle police officer.

At the top of the painted, red-cedar totem pole is an eagle, which according to First Nations tradition “flies the highest and sees the farthest, so he takes the perch at the top of the pole.” In the middle is an image depicting a master carver, a Williams family symbol handed down through seven generations of woodcarvers. The carver represented is John T. Williams displaying his signature totem, which features the kingfisher and the salmon. At the bottom of the totem pole is an image of the raven mother and baby. According to tradition, “the raven watches and nurtures us, making up the foundation of the totem.”

Read more about the honor totem pole and ceremony in the Seattle Times.

For a gallery of images, see this posting on The Stranger’s SLOG.