Ridgeline's Totem Pole

Ridgeline Learns Totem Pole Lacks Authenticity and Causes Harm


We have come to understand that Ridgeline’s totem pole lacks authenticity and causes cultural harm. As such, it does not reflect our core values or our community’s aspirations toward equity, inclusion, and belonging.  The project was intended to honor Native American traditions, but instead resulted in cultural appropriation and misrepresentation.




Cultural appropriation is the inappropriate adoption of another ethnic group's heritage leading to negative stereotypes and harm. Cultural ownership appropriation occurs when a member of one tribe adopts another tribe's customs.  Ridgeline’s totem pole is one among many located in the Eugene and 4J communities. Totem pole projects intended to educate the broader community and to honor Native American culture have instead highlighted significant issues of cultural appropriation. Removing these inauthentic totem poles needs to be done with care and respect so as not to create further unintentional harm.


Native American community leaders have requested that the totem poles be removed from Ridgeline and other 4J campuses. The 4J School District is reviewing these concerns and determining appropriate actions to address the harm caused.  The 4J NATIVES program has advised that Ridgeline wait to hear the outcome of the district’s review before taking action.  The program is also looking into how to decommission the totem poles respectfully. 

Ridgeline wants to take action in a way that exhibits respect for our Native community members. We are seeking input from those with more knowledge about how to respectfully resolve this matter. We aim to avoid causing unintended harm by acting with incomplete information. We will update our community as soon as we know more.

If you belong to a community harmed by these actions, we welcome the opportunity to listen. You can call Ridgeline’s front office and they will connect you to an administrator.  The office will be open through June 21, 2024 and will reopen on August 12, 2024.


View more related information that is referenced above.

Messages from the Native American advocacy group

Vic Hansen Article

Statement from David Boxley

4J Board Response

The totem pole project began in the Spring of 2016, led by former Ridgeline teacher Clint Moore and community member and Master Carver Vic Hansen. Moore and Hansen live in the same neighborhood and one afternoon, Moore struck up a conversation with Hansen about the totem pole in front of his house. Hansen, a retired educator with years of experience in alternative education, used woodworking as a teaching tool in his classes. They collaborated with the Eugene School District's NATIVES Program Director, Brenda Brainard, who has since retired from the program. The 4J NATIVES Program is a federally funded initiative that offers tutoring and activities for Native American students, as well as support for schools with Native American history projects. The acronym NATIVES stands for Native Americans Towards Improved Values in Education and Society. The program serves approximately 785 students representing 150 diverse tribes from across North America. Brainard had a prior working relationship with Vic Hansen, making it a natural partnership to work with Moore's Ridgeline upper elementary class.

When the cedar tree for the totem pole was selected, the 4J NATIVES Program performed a blessing and smudging ceremony for the tree and worked closely with the students on the selection of different images for the totem. They discussed the meanings of these images, how they can be interpreted, and what is appropriate and respectful in this context. Brainard emphasized that Native American history is often overlooked, but projects like Ridgeline Montessori’s totem pole provide an engaging way for students to learn about history and culture.

Over the years the paint on the totem pole faded and in May of 2023 Hansen reached out to the school to initiate the restoration process. Before proceeding with the project, Jesse Cloninger reached out to Josh Davies, the current NATIVES Program Administrator. During their discussions, Cloninger expressed the school’s concerns about whether the totem pole was engaging in cultural appropriation. Davies addressed these concerns and reaffirmed the program's support for all of 4J’s totem poles and continued support for Vic Hansen’s role in their maintenance efforts. Davies emphasized that this form of cultural representation is both respectful, authentic, and is not a form of cultural appropriation. They also discussed the school’s commitment to reconnect with the students and community members who played essential roles in the totem pole's design and creation, as well as recapturing the meanings of the imagery used in the totem pole. Reconnecting with these pieces of the story will allow us a deeper understanding of the origins and significance of our own totem pole as well as all of the totem poles in our community. In the future, Josh envisions the addition of plaques beside each totem pole, providing meaningful insights into their significance and relevant information.

On Saturday, June 3, 2023, Davies visited Ridgeline to conduct a ceremony involving a prayer of preparation and respect, which was necessary for the relocation of the totem pole for restoration. Davies spread tobacco, offered a prayer, and burned sage to prepare the totem pole for its move. Over the summer, the refurbishing process included sanding, filling holes, recarving some areas, complete repainting, and sealing with several coats of marine-grade clear coat. All of this took place at the workshop at the 4J NATIVES Program building. This refurbishing process utilized improved materials and is expected to extend the totem's lifespan by an estimated 35 years. Several work parties were held throughout the summer and fall to sand and repaint the totem pole. Attendance was small; however, several of the students who originally worked on the totem, now young adults, attended, as well as Moore, whose class originally carved the totem.

On Friday, November 17, 2023, the restored totem pole was reinstalled in its original location. A ceremony took place, and students and staff observed the totem pole being erected from a safe distance.

Totem Animals and Their Meanings

The Watchers

The Watchers serves as guardians, diligently safeguarding the village by warning its inhabitants to potential threats or dangers. In essence, The Watchers on the totem pole stands as a symbol of collective safety, emphasizing the importance of vigilance and communal protection in the face of potential challenges.

Red Tail Hawk

The hawk symbol on the totem pole is a powerful embodiment of various attributes: strength, courage, leadership, and prestige. As a totemic representation, the hawk's presence conveys not only physical prowess and bravery but also a sense of wisdom, acute perception, and a commitment to the collective well-being of the community. This is a very rare animal to see represented on totem poles. The NATIVES team working on the creation of the totem pole felt that it deserved to be there because it is the Ridgeline mascot. 

The Red Tailed Fox

The red-tailed fox symbol on the totem pole encompasses a rich array of qualities, prominently featuring empathy, which played a pivotal role in its selection by the students. Beyond its empathetic nature, research highlights that the red-tailed fox is traditionally recognized as a trickster, weaving a narrative of agility, quick-wittedness, diplomacy, and the art of camouflage. 

The Bobcat

The bobcat symbol on the totem pole encapsulates many characteristics. Renowned for its fierce independence, the bobcat embodies an unwavering spirit of self-reliance. Additionally, it symbolizes impeccable hunting skills. The bobcat, as a totemic representation, is associated with introspection, encouraging individuals to seek inner wisdom and self-discovery. Furthermore, the tenacity of the bobcat serves as a potent reminder of resilience in the face of adversity, making it a compelling symbol on the totem pole.

The Raven

The raven holding the sun on the totem pole represents a blend of power and intelligence. Research indicates that the raven is symbolically tied to introspection, courage, and self-knowledge. This totem gains significance as it's linked to a Native story explaining the Sun's origin. The raven, holding the Sun, serves as an emblem of celestial creation and prompts reflection on the interplay between cosmic forces and fundamental human qualities.

The Wolf

As a totemic representation, the wolf encapsulates not only a keen intellect and leadership qualities but also a profound commitment to familial bonds. Its portrayal on the totem pole serves as a powerful reminder of the enduring values of loyalty, perseverance through challenges, the pursuit of success, intuitive wisdom, and a deep spiritual connection.

The Beaver

As a totemic representation, the beaver not only reflects the virtues of persistence and adaptability but also brings forth a narrative of resolute determination, exceptional building skills, diligent oversight, and a natural inclination towards protection. Its presence on the totem pole serves as a potent reminder of these qualities, encouraging contemplation on the harmonious balance of industriousness and guardianship in the natural world.

The Adult Bear

The bear symbol on the totem pole represents strength and courage. The bear embodies qualities of introspection, healing, and protective instincts. 

The Baby Bear

The bear cub symbol on a totem pole conveys a sense of innocence, playfulness, and the promise of future strength.   The carvers felt that the bear cub would be a fitting representation of the entering Ridgeline kindergarteners.

The Adult Bear Holding The Bear Cub

The symbol of an adult bear holding a bear cub on a totem pole is a representation of love, learning, protection, and nurturing. This symbol celebrates the role of teachers, highlighting the interconnectedness of generations.

Totem poles like this do not accurately depict the authentic Native culture of western Oregon. The Kalapuya people possess their own rich artistic and intellectual traditions, actively participating in various regional projects. Unlike totem poles, the Kalapuya culture historically utilized Power Poles, imbued with profound significance within local communities that have thrived in this region for over 10,000 years. Many symbols featured on this particular pole originate from coastal tribes in the Pacific Northwest and were thoughtfully selected by Ridgeline students in collaboration with the 4J NATIVES program staff and Vic Hansen, who apprenticed with carver David Boxley of the Tsimshiam Tribe.

Ridgeline strives to acknowledge and celebrate the rich indigenous culture of native students, recognizing the diverse backgrounds within the 4J school district. With approximately 785 students representing 150 tribes from across North America, the commitment to respectful representation is viewed as a positive endeavor, fostering inclusivity and appreciation for the cultural diversity within the student body.