LA CONNER — For the past 24 years, a totem pole bearing the likenesses of a bear, an eagle and a salmon has stood atop a small knoll in front of La Conner Elementary School.
The totem pole is a symbol of unity, guardianship, and protection between the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and the La Conner School District.
On Wednesday — to song and blessings — the totem pole was taken down for some much needed care and a new coat of paint.
“This particular totem has a lot of sentimental value to it,” said Kevin Paul, a Swinomish tribal senator who carved the totem pole in 1994 and who will be doing the restoration work.
Paul said the work will have special meaning for him. His late father and brother, Alex Paul Sr. and Alex Paul Jr., helped design the totem pole and what it symbolizes.
“I’m honoring my family to do this work,” Paul said.
The totem pole was erected outside the school in 1995, said Theresa Trebon, archivist for the tribe.
The restoration project was spearheaded by parent April Bob, who began asking questions about the totem pole’s origins while volunteering on campus.
“I want kids to remember what the story is about,” Bob said. “It was about strength and unity.”
While doing research on the totem pole, Bob said she learned that this year marks the 100th anniversary of the partnership between the tribe and the district.
Before the totem pole was taken down, La Conner School Board President Janie Beasley — a Lushootseed language expert for the district — led a group of kindergartners and third graders in a Lushootseed friendship song.
As the totem pole was gently lifted, Paul and fellow La Conner High School class of 1979 graduate Jennifer Peters began to sing the Eagle Blessing song as Paul pounded out the beat on a hand drum.
Shortly afterward, a young student joined them, followed by other students. Soon, what started as two people singing had turned into a group song.
“It’s part of our culture and our history,” Beasley said. “Language and culture are important for our kids because it’s part of who we are.”