House of Tears Carvers visit Bellingham with totem pole bound for DC - Salish Current

An eagle in the House of Tears Carvers totem pole to be delivered to the Biden administration in Washington, D.C., this summer represents a particular style of leadership — led by the people — visitors to the totem pole heard May 24 in Bellingham. Inlays of copper, a potlatch symbol, from Canada demonstrate cross-border relationships.

photo: Amy Nelson © 2021


Several hundred people took part Monday (May 24) in an opportunity in Bellingham to view a totem pole created by Lummi carvers from a 400-year-old cedar log. The event was the latest stop in the Red Road to D.C. tour of the totem pole throughout the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere across the U.S. toward its final destination this summer in Washington, D.C.

Along the way, House of Tears Carvers of Lummi Nation has invited those interested to “lay hands on the totem pole and imbue it with their grief, their prayers, and their hopes.”

Master Carver Se Sealth (Jewell Praying Wolf James)

At Monday’s event, Master Carver Se Sealth (Jewell Praying Wolf James) described the story poem told by the images carved into the totem pole, from a praying shaman in the full moon, at the top, to blue water representing the Salish Sea, at the base. Other images call for protection of rivers and salmon runs, and celebrate Native religious practices and kinship among humans and other animals that “run in packs and have families,” he said. A poignant carving of a small child in a cage toward the totem pole’s base calls attention to treatment of children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Red handprints surrounding the moon and a grandmother and her granddaughter shedding tears for the girl’s missing mother evoke the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Tribal member Siam’elwit spoke in detail about communication and reporting issues in pursuing justice in violence against Indigenous people, and noted the creation in April by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland of a new Missing and Murdered Unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services.

Lummi tribal member Squil-le-he-le (Raynell Morris) spoke of the effort to repatriate the captive orca Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut (also known as Tokitae or her stage name, Lolita).

The 24-foot-tall, 3-foot-wide totem pole will be delivered July 28 to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian where it will be featured in an exhibition about the House of Tears Carvers’ totem pole journeys, said Beka Economopoulos, director of The Museum of Natural History.

In several significant stops along the way, the tour will connect areas of “Native-led struggles where sacred lands, waters and wildlife are imperiled by dams, climate change, and extractive industries,” per the project website.

Originally planned for more stops but shortened due to COVID-19 outbreaks in various locations, the cross-country segment of the tour will start with an event at Lummi Nation on July 14 before leaving for:

  • Snake River, Idaho
  • Bears Ears, Utah
  • Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
  • Black Hills, South Dakota
  • Missouri River, South Dakota
  • Standing Rock, North Dakota
  • White Earth, Minnesota
  • Bay Mills, Michigan.

Donations to support the tour may be made through the Lhaq’temish Foundation.

Several hundred people — many wearing red in remembrance of missing and murdered Indigenous women — gathered at Waypoint Park in downtown Bellingham to view and visit a totem pole made by House of Tears Carvers for presentation to the Biden Administration this summer in Washington, D.C. Below, clockwise from upper left: a representation of a truth-seeking shaman in the full moon, surrounded by red handprints symbolizing missing or murdered Indigenous women; a young boy in a cage representing children along the U.S.-Mexico border; a grandmother cares for her granddaughter as both mourn with tears of trauma the girl’s missing mother; visitors enjoy up-close access to the totem pole; a videographer captures a performance by one of several tribal and community musicians; Lummi tribal members Siam’elwit and Sit-ki-kadem (Douglas James, Sr.) were among speakers also including legislative district, city, county and Port of Bellingham officials.

— Story and photos by Amy Nelson

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