Snohomish Indian Tribe calls for removal of Langley totem poles
Langley’s two totem poles were actually carved by white people.
LANGLEY, Wash. – Long before it was an idyllic Northwest tourist town, Langley was home to the Snohomish Indian tribe.
More than 50 years ago, some residents decided to erect totem poles along the city’s scenic waterfront.
The problem is that the poles have very little to do with Native Americans.
“Langley’s culture had no idea,” Langley City Councilman Craig Cyr said. “They were completely blind to the concept of cultural appropriation.”
A post was carved in 1966 by a 17-year-old white boy.
A photo from the Whidbey Record newspaper of the time confirms this.
The carving includes Indigenous imagery and is culturally respectful, but was dedicated to the “early settlers of Langley”.
These are, of course, the people who stole the land from the Snohomish tribe.
Another post, planted in 1975, has a much more colorful history.
“It’s sex and drugs and rock and roll,” said Snohomish Tribe Chairman Mike Evans. “If you watch it, that’s the story on the post.”
Evans said the post tells the story of a young white man from Whidbey Island.
It’s a story of drinking, partying and chasing after women.
The “Thunderbird” that sits atop the pole represents the cheap booze that bears the same name.
This sculptor, now 83, confirms the story and its coded message to KING 5.
The man, a chainsaw artist, said the person who owned Langley’s iconic Dog House Tavern at the time asked him to carve a totem for him.
Free to carve what he wanted, the man decided to have a little fun with it.
He told KING 5 that he didn’t mean to offend anyone, and if knocking down the pole would help unite the community, it should be done.
President Evans believes the poles should be removed and replaced with something more suitable.
“You can’t help but smile and laugh about it,” he said, “but it’s kind of offensive that young people who don’t know the culture try to participate and imitate the natives and not including native people in this at all.”
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The poles have been battered by wind and rain over the past half century.
The controversy over whether to remove them is tempered by the fact that they both suffer from severe rot and have been deemed a danger to public safety.
The poles will fall.
What, if anything, will replace them has not been decided, but council member Cyr is grateful that they are helping to tell the full and true story of the town he loves.
“I’m proud of our city,” Cyr said. “I’m proud that we accept this.”