Canku Ota Logo

Canku Ota

Canku Ota Logo

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


August 10, 2002 - Issue 67


pictograph divider


Totem Pole Will Carry Blessings to New York

by Lynda V. Mapes Seattle Times staff reporter
credits: Harley Soltes/The Seattle Times
Lummi master carver Jewell Praying Wolf James
In Northwest tribal cultures, grief is a burden not to be carried alone.

And so it seemed natural, tribal members say, for the Lummi Nation to help the larger nation share the burden of grief after Sept. 11.

Lummi master carvers have crafted a healing totem pole they will take across the country this month, with ceremonial stops along the way to seek healing prayers, blessings and songs of elders from at least 25 tribes. The pole will then be given in New York to the families of victims of the terrorist attacks.

Some Native Americans say their nations, which have lost so much through acts of theft and genocide, have much to offer as the United States approaches the first anniversary of its unprecedented loss.

"Indian Country has lived in a lot of grief," said Jewell Praying Wolf James, a member of the Lummi tribal council and a carver of the healing pole. "You can go to Indian Country and they will talk about the losses of treaty rights, of natural resources, high death rates, the inability to come out of poverty.

"And so each tribal community is dependent on traditional knowledge and ceremonies to deal with grief. For us this is a real thing, and it is something that helps us survive. So if it works for us, it ought to be able to help others."

It is not the pole that heals, but the power of the blessings, songs and prayers of healing said over it. "The pole is a symbol of the spiritual forces the tribe is putting forth," James said.

The 12-foot-tall cedar healing pole includes an eagle that represents the fathers lost in the Sept. 11 attack. A mother bear represents the mothers killed. A baby bear represents healing through hope, and the gifts of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, James said.

The pole is decorated in red, black, white and yellow — the traditional paints of Northwest totem art. They represent races of the victims. The pole will be installed in a Sept. 7 ceremony at Sterling Forest, one hour northwest of New York City. The forest is a sister forest of the Arlecho Creek forest east of Bellingham that is sacred to the Lummi people.

The healing pole will be blessed at a ceremony at the Lummi Reservation later this month before the carvers and other Lummis escort it across the country. One of the stops will be at Celilo Falls, the most important former tribal fishing site on the Columbia River before it was flooded in the creation of The Dalles Dam.

The Yakama Nation will host a ceremony at Celilo Falls to offer the blessings of Yakama, Warm Springs and Nez Percé tribal members.

The pole and two cedar staffs also to be carved are artwork worth about $74,000, James estimated. The log was donated by Crown Pacific Limited Partnership in Portland.

Healing grief is seen as a community obligation. It is common for tribal governments to cover funeral expenses of enrolled members, and it is expected that the entire community will rally behind the bereaved.

The Swinomish tribal government, for instance, provides $3,000 toward the funeral expenses of every enrolled tribal member. It is also customary for tribal members to give gifts of money to the bereaved — a gift that is noted by the family and returned when the giver is in the same need.

"It's what we call our Indian insurance," said Brian Cladoosby, Swinomish tribal chairman.

He laughed out loud at the notion that grief would ever be borne alone. From appointing a speaker to represent the bereaved family to cooking their meals, hosting community dinners and standing by the family in wakes that can last for days, grieving and healing is a community undertaking.

"It is so important to have the community support, to know when you go through this you won't go through it alone," Cladoosby said.

After Sept. 11, the Spokane Tribe gathered its elders to offer tribal songs. Tribal members encircled the elders, their hands clasped, and church bells were rung.

"We have two alliances; we have to walk in two worlds all the time," said Bryan Flett, tribal heritage coordinator for the Spokane Tribe.

"We don't always see eye to eye with the federal government, but that attack was an attack on us as well."

The songs were for tribal members in the military around the country and the world.

"We wanted to send that song out to them wherever they were. We knew they could hear it. We wanted to touch them," Flett said.

With the gift of the healing pole and the ceremonial blessings from Indian elders across the country, the Lummi hope the families of victims of Sept. 11 will also be touched.

"This is what our mothers and our grandmothers taught us to do," said Darrell Hillaire, chairman of the Lummi Nation. "It is in everyone's hearts that we know that we can never take all the sorrow away from the families of the victims. But we hope we can help them in some small way.

"We have to answer that call."

Healing pole's figures

The 12-foot-tall cedar healing pole features the following symbols:

  • Eagle: the fathers killed in the Sept. 11 attacks
  • Mother bear: the mothers killed
  • Baby bear: healing through hope, and the gifts of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness
Seattle, WA Map
Maps by Travel

pictograph divider


Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us

Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us


pictograph divider

  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.

Canku Ota Logo   Canku Ota Logo

The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 of Paul C. Barry.

All Rights Reserved.

Thank You