LA CONNER — After being gone for three months, the bear, salmon and eagle that have stood watch outside La Conner Elementary School for more than two decades have returned.

The totem pole on which the animals are depicted was returned Wednesday to the hill outside the elementary school after being restored.

“This totem pole symbolizes many things, particularly the friendship between the La Conner School District and the Swinomish tribe,” La Conner School District Superintendent Whitney Meissner said.

While Wednesday’s ceremony marked the 25th birthday of the totem pole, the district this year is also celebrating its second century of collaboration with the tribe, Meissner said. The Swinomish Day School was closed in 1918, she said.

The totem pole was carved and designed by Swinomish Tribal Senator Kevin Paul, his brother Alex Paul Jr., and father Alex Paul.

It was removed in June so Kevin Paul could restore it.

Despite the jovial atmosphere and the singing on Wednesday, Paul said the day for him was one of melancholy, full of memories of his late brother and father.

“I wanted to honor them really well,” he said.

Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Chairman Brian Cladoosby said the bear represents the protector, the salmon the provider, and the eagle to watch over everything.

“Sharing our culture is important for not only the children, but our visitors that come to La Conner,” Cladoosby said. “It shows that the school is willing to embrace a part of our culture that is very important to us.”

As with when the pole was removed for restoration, students took time out of class Wednesday to gather around and watch it be put back into place.

“We want the kids to be part of this experience,” Meissner said. “These types of powerful experiences are the things children remember for the rest of their lives.”

The Swinomish tribal canoe family — which includes La Conner students — performed the Eagle Blessing and the kwist qaum warrior song. The song was dedicated to La Conner High School student Daniel Rapada, who for years has battled major illnesses.

A welcome speech was given in both English and Lushootseed, the native language of the Swinomish tribe.

“It provides acknowledgement of the traditional way of life, but it also is a place of pride,” state Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow, said of the totem pole. “Whether you’re a first American or not, the recognition of the totem reminds us of how intertwined our bloodlines are.”

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141,, Twitter: @Kera_SVH,

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