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Telling Stories Through Totem Poles
David Boxley is a Native American artist from the Tsimshian tribe in Alaska. He is a dancer, songwriter, and wood carver. He also is an ambassador for Tsimshian culture.DAVID BOXLEY: "We call it art now, but it was a way for people to say this is how I am. This belongs to me, or this is my clan, or this is my crest, this is my family history, carved and painted on wood." Mr. Boxley says Christian missionaries were a strong influence in his community while he was growing up. As a result, he learned little about his native culture.While working as a teacher, he began researching the history of his people. In 1986, he left teaching so that he could spend time wood-working and telling others about Tsimshian culture. DAVID BOXLEY: "I guess I came along at the right time. Our people really needed a shot in the arm. Our culture, it was - it wasn't very prominent after all that missionary influence, and years and years of not having anyone be in that kind of position to guide."Almost 30 years later, he completed his 70th totem pole. It is now part of the permanent collection at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. DAVID BOXLEY: "We don't use sandpaper. So we use the knives and the chisels to get it as smooth as possible. Get the lines clean."This totem pole started as a seven-meter-long piece of red cedar. Mr. Boxley began carving it months ago at his home in Washington state. DAVID BOXLEY: "This one is going to be seen by millions over the next hundred years or whatever, you know. And it's not just me and my son; it's all of my people that are proud...my tribe."On the day when the totem pole officially became part of the museum, Mr. Boxley's family and friends performed for a crowd.Then, the pole was shown for the first time.Thanks to David Boxley, the museum is able to show a fine example of Tsimshian culture to its visitors. I'm Kelly Nuxoll.