The Rotary Nature Center Totem Pole was carved in 1998 by Eagle Helikinuva, a canoe and totem carver from the Native American Tsimshian nation. It was erected in front of the Rotary Nature Center in 1999, and blessed by the Intertribal Friendship House with a drum ceremony.
According to the nature center:
The icons were chose to represent the Lake Merritt Wildlife Refuge and the people that live around it.
At the top is a bird, representing the air and the many birds that flock to Lake Merritt for refuge during the winter. If you look closely, you'll see that the wings of the main bird are made up of other birds!
Underneath the birds is a rattlesnake, symbolizing life and death. Stephanie Benavidez, the current supervisor at the Rotary Nature Center, chose this snake for the totem pole after she had been bitten by a rattlesnake! She survived, and instead of developing a fear of rattlesnakes she found that her respect for non-human creatures had broadened to include the power they hold & the roles they play in the cycles of living and dying.
Next is a monkey, to remind us of the innate curiosity and playfulness we humans possess. It's important we steward this wildlife refuge, but it's also "important to remember that this is a place to restore our connection with nature, and find things in the environment to marvel at even though we're in the heart of Oakland," says Benavidez. The monkey is there to remind us of the primary intent of the Rotary Nature Center—to bring people and nature together!
Last, at the base, is a sea serpent to protect the water and the animals that live within it.