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A Totem Pole History

The Work of Lummi Carver Joe Hillaire

Pauline Hillaire

Publication Year: 2013

Joseph Hillaire (Lummi, 1894–1967) is recognized as one of the great Coast Salish artists, carvers, and tradition-bearers of the twentieth century. In A Totem Pole History, his daughter Pauline Hillaire, Scälla–Of the Killer Whale (b. 1929), who is herself a well-known cultural historian and conservator, tells the story of her father’s life and the traditional and contemporary Lummi narratives that influenced his work.

A Totem Pole History contains seventy-six photographs, including Joe’s most significant totem poles, many of which Pauline watched him carve. She conveys with great insight the stories, teachings, and history expressed by her father’s totem poles. Eight contributors provide essays on Coast Salish art and carving, adding to the author’s portrayal of Joe’s philosophy of art in Salish life, particularly in the context of twentieth century intercultural relations.

This engaging volume provides an historical record to encourage Native artists and brings the work of a respected Salish carver to the attention of a broader audience.



Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-11

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xiii

List of Maps

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p. xiv-xiv

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A Note on Lummi Terms

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pp. xv-xvi

...For their expertise and generous assistance with Lummi terms, we are thankful to Lummi hereditary chief Tsi’li’xw Bill James and Dr. Timothy Montler, Department of Linguistics, University of North Texas. Bill James provided assistance with the Lummi terms used by the author, and Timothy Montler provided spellings of the terms with diacritical...

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Nomination of Pauline Hillaire for the National Heritage Fellowship

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pp. xvii-xviii

...privileged to receive the award many years ago, and I know that its intention is to highlight our living treasures. Scälla most surely belongs with those who have spent their lives practicing and perpetuating the best of our American traditions. As a Native American artist and teacher...

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A Call to Carvers

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pp. xix-xxii

...Lummi Nation. My Indian name is Scälla, which means “Of the Killer Whale.” I’m making an all-out call for young people with dreams and visions for the future of their children and the survival of their children. To carve, some of you think it’s a mystery, but no. You’ve got to have heart, and I know you do. To carve as the Coast Salish people did, you’ve got to have heart. It has also...

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pp. xxiii-xxxviii

...northern Pacific Coast, that is, the totem poles of Alaska and northern British Columbia from tribes such as the Tlingit, Haida, and Kwakwaka’wakw (see map 1). However, south of these tribes, a number of Coast Salish tribes in Canada and Washington State also carve totem poles. Among American...

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Scälla, Of the Killer Whale: A Brief Biography

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pp. xxxix-lxviii

...Two young men paddle out to pull in their purse seine as we look across Hale Passage toward Lummi Island. A seal noses its head out of the water in front of them, and then, bobbing up and down, it swims toward us. Songbirds, ignited by the brilliant afternoon...

PART ONE : Joe Hillaire

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1 Carving

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pp. 3-8

...The reason I say this is because I’ve watched several family members as they carved from beginning to end: totem poles, grave markers, boxes, utensils, masks, hats, canoes, paddles, and many other useful and artistic items. I must admit that I watched my father carve more than anyone else did. He told stories of nature, legends of the old times, and Indian...

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2 Power of the Bear: Memories of My Father, Joe Hillaire

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pp. 9-24

...Club, was born on December 25, 1894. First of all, he is my dad, and I am extremely proud of him. My effort in this book is to tell you about him as much as possible while knowing that telling about just one part of his life — his work as a carver — is extremely limited. He completed the...

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3 Kwul-kwul’tw, Spirit of the War Club: Religious Man, Renaissance Man

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pp. 25-38

...remembers being away from home at a government boarding school, the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the 1960s. Sometimes, when she was homesick, she would go to the school library and listen to the Library of Congress recording of Joe Hillaire’s story and song, “Grandmother Rock and the Little Crabs.” She loved...

PART TWO: Coast Salish Art and Carving

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4 Straits Salish Sculpture

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pp. 41-44

...tribes who spoke related languages called Coast Salish by linguists. These Coast Salish people live along the southern coast of British Columbia, including the south end of Vancouver Island, and the western part of Washington State on the shores of Juan de Fuca Strait and Puget Sound...

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5 Joseph Raymond Hillaire: Lummi Artist-Diplomat

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pp. 45-67

...culture bearer, culture broker, artist, Native activist, and diplomat. He came of age in a tumultuous period, his generation having inherited the trauma of their parents’ dehumanizing experiences in boarding schools and at the hands of missionaries and government agents. Theft of traditional lands meant an ever-shrinking resource base from which to carry on fishing...

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6 Coast Salish Carving: Our Work Is Our Identity

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pp. 68-75

...carving masks and bentwood boxes. With the help of master carvers who have taken me under their wings — they’ll teach you if they see that you’re a doer and not just a talker — there’s absolutely nothing that these master carvers will not share with you. It is a blessing of mentorship...

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7 I Look to the Old People: Reflectionson Joe Hillaire and Carving

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pp. 76-83

...table and a sudden thought came into my head: “I’m going to carve a totem pole.” I was in my twenties, had worked many different jobs, and hadn’t felt fulfilled by any of them. This thought about carving was odd enough in that I had no experience with it and knew next to nothing about Northwest Coast art. Even stranger was that I got up from the table that day and went down to the Bellingham Art Museum and bought Bill Holm’s book...

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8 A Thin Red Line: Pigments and Paint Technology of the Northwest Coast

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pp. 84-93

...charcoal and red ochre paintings deep in caves, every culture has used color in the forms of pigments, dyes, and paints to bring to life their dreams, their environment, and their experiences. Among Native people of the Northwest Coast, the application of mineral pigments and vegetable dyes to objects and to their own bodies has been one of the most...

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9 Maintaining Integrity: Totem Pole Conservation and the Restoration of the Centennial History Pole

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pp. 94-100

...motivated by many factors. In the early twentieth century, totem poles were restored and moved to new locations as tourist sights. Examples of this history border the rail lines through northern British Columbia. As landmarks, these totem poles were highly prized by the developers of tourist...

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10 Archetypes from Cedar: Myth and Coast Salish Story Poles

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pp. 101-124

...language that can be used to speak of the process of personal growth: “Science works with concepts of averages, which are far too general to do justice to the subjective variety of an individual life. My life is a story,” he wrote, “of the self-realization of the unconscious. Everything in the unconscious...

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11 Artists Were the First Historians: Spiritual Significance of Coast Salish Carving

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pp. 125-134

...what I have been taught about as the immortal spirits, whose purposes for being are to preserve and perpetuate. These profound intentions were known so well by Kwul-kwul’tw, as his life was filled with art that preserves and perpetuates sacred teachings. To honor such dedication and humility...

PART THREE : Totem Poles of Joe Hillaire

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12 Bellingham Centennial History Pole

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pp. 137-146

...detail the historic culture of the Lummi people and commemorates the first meeting of white settlers and Lummi leaders in 1852. It is a twentytwo- foot history pole, first dedicated in 1952. The canoe carries two Indians and two white men. Only the Indians in the canoe are using paddles, which represent their generosity and the...

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13 Schelangen Story Pole

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pp. 147-152

...The Schelangen (Mobil/Ferndale) pole was carved for the General Petroleum Refinery in Ferndale, Washington, to represent the close relationship between the Lummi Tribe, industry, and the Ferndale community. The pole was installed at the refinery from 1954 to 1992. Restoration was...

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14 Kobe-Seattle Sister Cities Friendship Pole

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pp. 153-162

...Joe Hillaire was commissioned by the Seattle-Kobe Affiliation Committee to carve the Kobe pole as a gesture of international friendship after the devastation of World War II. Like some of Joe’s other carvings, the Kobe pole reflects important historical events and community relationships. These works also reflect the spirit of intercultural fellowship that infused...

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15 Land in the Sky Story Pole

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pp. 163-176

...pole for the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle. This was just after Sputnik came out from Russia in 1960. It’s a thirty-five-foot pole, three and half feet in diameter, weighing 13,240 pounds, and carved from a red cedar tree about a thousand years old, harvested in the rain forest near the Hoh...

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16 Man in Transition Story Pole

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pp. 177-180

...Once the bear’s jaws are open, you see those powerful teeth. And this means to me and all people looking at this totem pole that it takes a strong person to decide to make the change that they must make in their lifetime. The spear ferns that he is wearing look like real spears. They represent...

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17 T’Kope Kwiskwis Lodge Entrance Pole

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pp. 181-184

...be an Indian. Therefore, some Indians tried to pass themselves off as Mexicans, others invented the name “Smoked Irish,” and if they happened to be “breed” (half-breed), they would not claim their Indian side. There is no end to counting the things that Indians were totally banned from...

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18 Bronson Story Pole

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pp. 185-190

...The Bronson Story Pole was commissioned by the Richard Bronson family, Gig Harbor, Washington. Joe Hillaire completed it in 1957. It was restored by Larry Ahvakana and Ed Carriere at the Carriere Studio, Suquamish, Washington, and installed at Indianola Park, Port Madison/Suquamish...

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19 Halibut Fisherman Story Pole I

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pp. 191-194

...symbols as my father’s totems carry, such as symbols that look like sun dogs on the wings and the transition symbol of the bear in the middle holding a giant serpent, the carving isn’t familiar. The carving style doesn’t quite match. I need to relay the message that many people copied totem...

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20 Halibut Fisherman Story Pole II

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pp. 195-198

...art of making the hook with which to catch the flat fish of the sea. Our story begins with the difficulties of two young men whose mother was unable to teach them the art of making the halibut hook. The boys’ father had died, and the mother, being a member of a distant tribe, chose to...

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21 Double-Headed Wolf Totem

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pp. 199-200

...dozen or a dozen, and this is one: the Double-Headed Wolf. This is a Double-Headed Wolf: two heads, one body. And there is a man above; that’s his power, and when he dances, he has two wolf heads. When seen in a vision, he is carved on this totem pole. And the one who carved it is standing above him in the paddle shirt. It is identifying the...

PART FOUR : Lummi Oral History and Tradition

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22 Some Place-Names from Lummi History

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pp. 203-204

...village called Xxe lel kuut, north of the present town of Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Near this village was a cemetery; his uncle is buried there. Patrick George’s father is buried there, and so is Johnnie Tom. “All these people are my relations; they are Lummi. The name of the island...

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23 Canoes

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pp. 205-210

...canoe pictured here with the two boys in it. When he was finished, the two boys, Willy and Charlie, got in it, and my husband raced them, swimming, to the dock of the ferry landing. And my husband beat them, but they were new at canoe pulling. The boys paddled for all they were worth to get to...

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24 Longhouses of Long Ago

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pp. 211-214

...structures, and because the Indians who built them were colorful, the longhouses were colorful. They were usually built where drinking water was convenient. There were several freshwater springs in the Lummi area. Not only were the longhouses colorful, but with the wisdom of the ages, they were built comfortably and wisely. I was born in a square longhouse. We just...

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25 A Wedding in Lummi History

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pp. 215-220

...Long ago there lived upon Lummi Island a young man named Switunk. The Great Transformer came along and told him how to get the salmon for food and how to care for himself. By and by, the young man became lonely, for he wanted company. The Great Transformer had said nothing...

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26 How the Lummi Came to Their Present Abode

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pp. 221-228

...Orcas Island, there was a widow with two sons. The oldest boy’s name was Wh ta’thum. The widow decided to have her son marry a girl from among the S’kalakin Tribe, who lived on the mainland. After due preparations were made with the help of some friends, the widow secured the...

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27 The Lummi at Treaty-Making Time

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pp. 229-243

...In 1933 Joe Hillaire wrote this script for a reenactment of the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott. Joe hoped that the play and related activities planned in observation of the upcoming centennial of the treaty would afford an opportunity for both Indian and white citizens to reflect on events...

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28 Tsats-mun-ton

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pp. 244-245

...known for his strength, his courage, and his hunting skill. He was also an early riser. His name was Tsats-mun-ton. One morning he awoke very early. Everyone else was asleep. The day started out quiet and very beautiful. How he loved the land, looking at the water, the mountains, and the...

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29 Four Generations of Medicine Men

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pp. 246-248

...little son. The son was a little tyke; he’d follow his father all around to each house. He’d go from house to house and house to house, and he’d see how everybody was. The little boy watched like a hawk. He wanted to be just like his massive, smart father. Every time he’d find someone...

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30 The Mink Family and the Raccoon Family

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pp. 249-253

...were no people on the land, just animals. Only the creatures that creep around were here. Can you imagine not a single human being? Not a single human being, no matter where you looked. But the animals were happy. There was a little inlet bay. Over here lived the raccoons, and over here lived the mink. Well, the mink had a good reputation. They were sleek...

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31 Stommish: Revival of the Water Festival

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pp. 254-255

...The Lummi Indian Stommish is now usually held during the second weekend in June. Many war canoes converge at Gooseberry Point, cutting through the choppy, tide-tortured waters of Hale Passage, in a competition as old as Lummi history. The Stommish is one of the few authentic...

32 Signs of the Seasons

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p. 256-256


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pp. 257-262


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pp. 263-268

List of Contributors

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pp. 269-272


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pp. 273-284

Other Works in the Series

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pp. 285-286

E-ISBN-13: 9780803249509
E-ISBN-10: 0803249500
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803240971

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Totem poles -- Washington (State).
  • Indian wood-carving -- Washington (State).
  • Indian artists -- Washington (State) -- Biography.
  • Lummi Indians -- Biography.
  • Hillaire, Joe, 1894-1967.
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