A Lummi totem pole specially carved for the Biden administration made its way through the islands, stopping at San Juan, Orcas and Lopez before continuing its journey to Washington, D.C. On May 10 and 11, the 24-foot tall totem pole carved from 400-year-old western red cedar visited three of the ferry-served islands, drawing hundreds of islanders to view it.
“With a new federal administration — including the first Native American to lead the Department of the Interior, the Executive Orders issued, Supreme Court decisions affirming tribal rights, and the urgency of climate crises, now is the time to implement policies to protect, restore, and renew sacred places, lands and waterways,” the House of Tears Carvers wrote on the Red Road to DC website, “and redefine the principles that shape land and water regulation and management in the United States on the basis of tribal sovereignty and Nation to Nation relations.”
In February, the House of Tear Carvers, who are members of the Lummi Nation, acquired the wood and carvers from ages 4 to 70 helped to construct the pole, according to the website.
“There were no preliminary sketches of an intended totem pole. This ‘Journey’ is about sacred sites,” Head Carver Jewell Praying Wolf James, whose Indian name is Se-sealth, said in a statement on the website. “ Thus, we decided to let the spirit guide the choice of figures as we carved the totem from top down.”
The totem features the “Indian-in-the-Moon;” a praying or meditating male figure before a fire without logs; the diving eagle; salmon heads; a full Chinook salmon; and more.
“[E]ach image is a symbol. Symbols are meant to be interpreted by the observer, who includes what they were taught and experienced in life themselves, and what has been shared with them about identification of the symbols,” James said in his statement. He then went on to explain the carvers’ interpretation. You can read his full statement at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/20613355-sacred-sites-totem-pole-2021.
From May 24 until July 10, the totem pole will be taken on a West Coast tour. Then, the totem pole will leave the Lummi Nation on July 14 to traverse the United States, making stops in various sacred locations and hosting livesteam events before arriving in Washington, D.C., on July 28.
For more information about the totem pole’s creation and journey, visit www.redroadtodc.org.
“The totem pole is a symbol that we seek to encourage the idea that ‘All Things Come Together’ in a Society of Justice. The Earth shall continue without us, but we cannot continue without the Earth,” James said in his statement. “We pray for the Blessing Balancing of the Male and Female Powers of Life.”
Michael Riordan, an Orcas Island resident who attended the May 11 ceremony at Madrona Point — known to the Lummi as Ts’el-xwi-sen — wrote about the event, saying:
“Chief carver Jewell Praying Wolf James (Se Sealth) subsequently delivered an impassioned summary of the pole iconography, emphasizing how U.S. culture has long denigrated the female. Red hands at the top represent Indian women stolen from the midst of tribes, raped and murdered. And a grandmother and daughter at the base represent how the remaining female members have filled the tribal chasm thereby created. These icons, he declared, have much broader meaning for our male-dominated culture, which has been abusing Mother Earth for centuries.
“The Red Road to DC pole will travel the breadth of the United States this summer, visiting sacred Indian sites and places such as the Bears Ears National Monument and the Black Hills of South Dakota before presentation to President Biden at the White House. Following that, it will be installed at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and become part of that museum’s permanent collection.
“At the end of his presentation, James told the gathering that another totem pole carved by the House of Tears Carvers several years ago is on its way to Orcas Island later this summer. Supported in part by a generous grant from [Orcas] islander Janet Alderton, the Anthropocene Pole has been similarly touring the nation for the past few years. It will be installed at the Orcas Island Public Library, in the plaza on its southwest side, overlooking the village and waters of Eastsound. A more fitting site for this pole can hardly be found in the San Juan Islands, which before 1850 were the summer home of Lummi Indians who fished the islands’ prolific waters, harvesting the then-abundant salmon.
“‘Hysh’qe, thank you,’ chanted Che Blaine of the local Odd Fellows lodge to James and the other Lummi carvers in closing the ceremony, noting this history, ‘Welcome home.’”