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.”
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.
— Story and photos by Amy Nelson
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