The pole was made
from a 400-year-old Western red cedar tree that was cut, carved
and painted with images of importance to Native Americans
Jewell James of the Lummi
Nation works on a 25-foot totem pole he helped make as head
carver for the "House of Tears Carvers." The pole is making
a cross-country trip with a crew of travelers in July from
Washington state to D.C. to raise awareness about Native American
issues and sacred sites. (Jason Jones/The Natural History
A 5,000-pound totem pole that was hand-carved by Native Americans
is coming from Washington state to be on display in the nation's
capital this summer after a journey that organizers hope will raise
awareness about protecting land that is sacred to tribes.
The totem pole's journey on a tractor-trailer, which organizers
are calling the "Red
Road to D.C.," involves a two-week trek led by about a dozen
people, many of whom are Native Americans and members of the Lummi
Nation, a tribe of about 5,000 members west of Bellingham, Wash.
About $500,000 has been raised from dozens of nonprofits, sponsors,
and tribal groups for the cross-country trip.
In preparation for the journey, the group took the pole on a tour
this spring along the West Coast and parts of the South. Group members
will hit the road again in mid-July, arriving in the nation's capital
by July 29. The pole will be on display for two days on the Mall
and outside the entrance of the National Museum of the American
Native American organizers said they plan to "deliver the pole
to the Biden administration in hopes that it gives a strong and
important message." Arrangements are being made to find a permanent
home for it in D.C., organizers said.
On their road trip to D.C., the caravan plans to stop at several
spots of importance to Native Americans, including Chaco Canyon,
a national park in New Mexico; the Standing Rock Indian Reservation
in North Dakota; and Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. Each
faces threats of development tied to natural resources or pipelines.
land is sacred to the Apache, and they are fighting to save it]
For Jewell "Praying Wolf" James, a Lummi Nation citizen and the
master carver of the pole, it is "a reminder of the promises that
were made to the first peoples of this land and waters." He said
he hopes that people will "share in their responsibility to safeguard
the sacred sources of life Earth, water and sky."
The idea came from Phreddie Lane, a Lummi Nation citizen. He said
he is "proud of how strongly Native Americans had come out to vote
in swing states in the last U.S. presidential election" and he wants
the new administration to "hear our message" of concern about issues
important to Native Americans and, in particular, worries about
sacred sites being harmed.
"It's a very historic moment to bring it to D.C.," Lane said.
"And to have it sit among these sacred national monuments, representing
Native American peoples, is special."
People rest their hands
on a totem pole built by some members of the Lummi Nation,
a Native American tribe in Washington state, as it makes a
stop in Wishtoyo Sacred Village near Malibu, Calif. (House
of Tears Carvers)
White House officials said they are aware of the totem pole's journey
Libby Washburn, special assistant to the president for Native affairs
and a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, said Biden is "committed
to ensuring tribal voices have a seat at the table." She noted he
appointed Deb Haaland, who is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna,
to lead the Interior Department the first Native American
Cabinet secretary and has worked closely with "the Native
community on our covid-19 response and plans to rebuild our economy."
Totem pole carving is a tradition for some tribes, mainly in British
Columbia and the U.S. Pacific Northwest. The totem poles often are
said to be a "spiritual being" and are considered sacred symbols
of a tribe, clan or a family tradition, experts said.
For the Lummi Nation, totem poles historically are carved with
symbols that represent a certain clan of a tribe or show a family
or tribe's lineage. They can have scenes that depict an important
tribal leader or might have a panel that shows a tribal battle or
a story told for generations, James said.
"They represent visions, dreams and stories that are handed down
and shaped through each generation," he said.
American tribes were already being wiped out. Then the 1918 flu
Standing 25 feet tall and measuring about 43 inches wide, the totem
pole that's coming to D.C. was made from a 400-year-old red cedar
tree. The tree was cut, carved and painted with images and symbols
that include a moon, salmon and a man praying. One drawing shows
an eagle "headed downward in a dive to the Earth," representing
a Lummi belief that the eagle is "bringing the spiritual power to
impregnate the Mother Earth."
It contains an image of a woman with a girl kneeling near her,
a scene meant to depict grandmothers across the country who are
raising and teaching their granddaughters traditional Native American
ways, James said.
Seven tears are near the image, which James said represents seven
generations of Native people throughout the world who have been
"traumatized by the treatment they received from non-Indians."
Two carvers work on a
25-foot totem pole that will come from the Lummi Nation in
Washington state to D.C. in late July. (Jason Jones/The Natural
Another area contains a red hand to bring attention to the hundreds
of indigenous women who are murdered or go missing each year.
James's group, called the "House of Tears Carvers," spent three
months this year working on the pole.
The group has created 110 totem poles over three decades that range
from 3 feet to 28 feet, he said. Most are given to schools, homes
for veterans or other places in Washington state. Others recognize
tragedies like the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A 13-foot
totem pole was placed at Congressional Cemetery in D.C. to honor
victims who were at the Pentagon that day.
This summer will be the first time the group has made and moved
such a large totem pole. In the past two months, it has been on
a West Coast tour, on display for tribes and stopping at community
Irish are repaying a favor from 173 years ago in Native Americans'
fight against coronavirus]
Beka Economopoulos, director of the Natural History Museum in Washington
state, which has been involved with the totem pole project, said
the West Coast travels have brought crowds of people to events who
lay their hands on it and pray.
"It's going to carry the spirit of the land it visits and the power
and prayers of the people along the way to the symbolic heart of
the nation," she said. Economopoulos said keeping the pole in D.C.
would make it a "monument to the protection of sacred places and
a way of relating to the land."
Elena Guarinello, an exhibition developer and manager at the National
Museum of the American Indian, said graphics and panels inside the
museum will explain the totem pole's significance and its journey.
Judith LeBlanc, director of the Native Organizers Alliance, said
bringing the pole to the nation's capital will encourage national
leaders to "recognize what their ancestral responsibilities are."
"We sat nation-to-nation and signed agreements," LeBlanc said.
"We gave up land that mattered in order to receive health care,
education and housing. Those treaty rights have been denied all
LeBlanc said she hopes the White House will "create a whole new
reset with tribal nations by bringing us to the table to not just
consult, but to come up with solutions" to protect land and water
resources on sites sacred to Native Americans.
Dana Hedgpeth is a Washington Post reporter, working in the early
morning to report on traffic, crime and other local issues. She
joined The Post in 1999. Twitter
Road to D.C. - A Totem Pole journey for the protection of sacred
This Summer, the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation will
transport a 25-foot totem pole from Washington State to Washington
DC, stopping for ceremony and live-streamed events with communities
leading efforts to protect sacred places under threat from resource
extraction and industrial development. As the pole travels it draws
lines of connectionhonoring, uniting and empowering communities
working to protect sacred places. The pole carries the spirit of
the lands it visits and the power and prayers of communities along
the wayultimately delivering these prayers, power and demands
to the Biden-Harris Administration and Congress in Washington DC,
and culminating in an exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum
of the American Indian.
to D.C. - A Totem Pole journey for the protection of sacred places