The Girl Scout Journey Carved into History

The totem blessing ceremony

We’ve spent all year celebrating Girl Scouts’ 100th Anniversary with fun events to commemorate a century of Girl Scouts. Though most celebrations have been fleeting, we’re happy to tell you about a new way we’ve honored our centennial that can be seen and cherished by Girl Scouts for the next 100 years! Thanks to life-long Girl Scout, Karyn Livingston, a brand new totem pole has been erected at  Camp River Ranch! The totem was installed at camp last week, and there was a general blessing ceremony on August 15, with campers and counselors in attendance.

Totem poles are part of the unique Pacific Northwest culture. Totem poles are monumental sculptures carved from large trees by indigenous cultures. Each totem pole features many special symbols like animals, religious or spiritual entities or people.

“Lots of times they tell the history of a family, if someone is married or even if you owe debt. A totem pole can represent many different things,” explained Teresa Woods, our Special Events Manager. With her Aleut Native American heritage (from Alaska), Teresa has helped educate us about totem poles’ importance in Native American culture. For example, there’s always a ceremony when a totem pole is raised where there are songs and the totem is blessed.

The Totem Dedication Blessing

During the ceremony, Karyn spoke about her experience creating the totem pole and was presented with thank you gifts for her incredible hard work. Kim Brunskill, our Assistant Camp Director at River Ranch and part-Native American, assisted with the blessing at the totem pole dedication alongside Teresa.  Paul Drake our Director of Product Sales, and Amy Goodloe, our Fund Development Coordinator, provided the music by drumming and rattling during the blessing.

The blessing included honoring each of the cardinal directions and the symbols that each direction represents in some Native American cultures. Kim and Teresa used sage during the blessing and followed these seven steps:

  • Face the East to honor the sunrise and new beginnings. The East also represents spring time, eagle and the color red.
  • Face South to honor nurturing (food growth, etc,). Symbols also include summer, coyote and the color yellow.
  • Face West to honor healing, sleep and dreaming. Symbols are fall, bear and the color black.
  • Face the North to honor purification and storytelling (sharing rites of passage). Symbols are winter, mountain lion and the color black.

Go back to facing East and:

  • Honor Father Sky by looking up.
  • Honor Mother Earth by bending down (usually touching the ground).
  • Honor the “present moment” which was honoring the totem pole. It customary to gift something in return for a gift given (the totem pole) and so a handmade drum made by Teresa’s sister Sharon Byerly and dad Larry Gifford was presented to Karyn. Campers added to the celebration by singing the closing songs of the ceremony, “Make New Friends” and Lake Langlois.”

The Woman Behind the Wood

The artist herself!

None of this could have been possible without the dedication and inspiration of Karyn Livingston who approached Girl Scouts with the idea to make the totem. As a life-long Girl Scout Karyn has led troops and volunteered with Girl Scouts in Darrington. Even today, she remains in contact with girls from her troop from when she was a girl! Karyn’s dedication to the organization runs strong; so much that she plans to donate the property where she lives to Girl Scouts when she passes away. Her generous plan for a future donation makes Karyn a plan-giving donor with Girl Scouts.

“Karyn really embodies all of the things we hope girls will become. She’s courageous and she has definite character,” described Sue Ramsey, long-time friend and our Director of Major Gifts and Planned Giving.

Willing to challenge herself and try new things, Karyn started dental school in her 40’s and later, with her own hands and her “John Dearie” (as she likes to call her John Deere tractor) she built her own cabin on about 40 acres in Darrington. Her cabin is fully equipped with solar panels for energy and a water system designed by Karyn to harness rain water allowing her to be completely self-sufficient with a cell phone as her only source of communication to the outside world.

From Concept to Carving

Among Karyn’s many talents is her carving ability. She’s created works of art that featured faces carved in wood but she had never taken on such a huge endeavor as a totem pole.

The wood she used is old growth yellow cedar purchased from Bruce Blacker, owner of Oso Mill, part of Blackhawk Enterprise. The totem is made up of two 20 foot-long sections that she carved in her own living room! Since each piece weighs hundreds of pounds, Bruce and Ron Carlson (whose heritage is the First Nations’ Upper Nicola  of British Columbia, Canada) owner of Blackhawk Enterprise helped Karyn bring the wood inside. From there Karyn took over and created an apparatus to rotate the wood herself!

Adorned with more than 15 symbols, the totem represents the Girl Scout journey. It features all the Girl Scout levels, from Daisies to Ambassadors, and up to volunteers, the Girl Scout logo, as well as animals and insects like a ladybug, dragonfly and a beaver. Each image wraps about three-quarters of the way around the pole leaving room in the back for a metal “V” that’s in the structure for support. While this isn’t part of a traditional design, it’ll ensure the totem has a longer lifespan so Girl Scouts can continue to enjoy this treasure for years to come.

To top it off, the totem is adorned with a real copper hat. Traditionally, each tribe has a different design or style of hat that is represented on a totem. Usually they are made out of cedar strips like a cone. The hat is meant to shield the rest of the pole from rain. Karyn – you guessed it – made the copper hat herself! Her design for the hat was influenced by many different tribes, but the design is uniquely hers.

With her best buddy Hans, the mastiff dog, Karyn would spend ten hours a day carving, making the project her passion for over nine months.

“She’s just an amazing woman. She is always willing to take on a challenge no matter whether it’s going to dental school when she’s 40 or building a cabin on her own, with the skills she’s gotten from Girl Scouts she can do it,” added Sue.

Bringing the Totem Pole to Great Heights

At camp, Pete Iversen, River Ranch’s Site Manager, became the totem pole expert and assisted in raising the pole after Ron and others helped haul it from Darrington. Because the totem is so tall, cement was poured and let cure for about three weeks to create the base of the structure. Using a crane from Coast Crane and operated by Matt Neu from Garner Construction, the totem pole found its final home at the welcome pavilion at River Ranch.

“We chose to display the totem at River Ranch for the visibility and the impact of where it could be seen and appreciated. Even when parents drop off their daughters to camp, everyone gets to see it,” explained Teresa.

Standing proud, the new totem pole will be enjoyed at River Ranch for many years to come!

We’d like to thank everyone who has helped make this ceremony possible and helped Karyn along in the process of creating and raising the totem. Special thanks to: Coast Crane’s Bryan Zimmerman and Les Murr; Garner Construction’s Elizabeth Quarrie, Jacqueline Garner, Matt Neu and Scott Hansen; Eagle Hawk Enterprise; Bruce Blacker; Ron Carlson; Girl Scout’s Amy Goodloe, Jen Dickson, Kathy Olson, Kim Brunskill, Maria DeVore, Mike Thompson, Paul Drake, Pete Iversen, Sue Ramsey and Teresa Woods; last but not least, Karyn Livingston! 

One comment

  1. Rachel Forte says:

    it’s great to see a life-long scout giving back to the gsww community in this beautiful way. it’s also great that gsww will be able to use the totem pole to help girls learn about a unique aspect of pacific northwest history and tradition. so excited to get out to river ranch and see it for myself!

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