The journey of the totem pole, carved at the Lummi Nation, will culminate in a blessing ceremony and inauguration Oct. 25 at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.
While the end of its 5,294-mile journey is in sight, its mission is just beginning.
The totem pole created by master carver Jewell James and the House of Tears Carvers at the Lummi Nation is speeding on a trailer toward Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from Seattle, where it was blessed a week ago at University Congregational Church.
Intended to raise awareness about fossil-fuel development and climate change, the totem pole’s trip will culminate in a blessing and inauguration by a delegation of tribal leaders across North America on Wednesday (Oct. 25) at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
The ceremonies will be open to the public and posted live online.
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The totem pole will remain on exhibit at the Carnegie for six months, then travel to other museums.
The cross-country tour and exhibit, called “Kwel’Hoy, We Draw the Line,” is a collaboration of the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation and The Natural History Museum, a New York-based nonprofit created in 2014, to bring exhibits about science and the natural world beyond the walls of museums to communities.
This is the fifth totem-pole journey in five years by Lummi Nation tribal members to draw attention to fossil-fuel development. But this event is a first between the carvers and museums to get their message out.
James, reached by phone outside of Chicago, said the mission — and responsibility to speak out about the environment — is a shared one.
“We are trying to find a way to increase the unity among the churches, the citizens groups, environmental groups, for citizens to realize how important this united work is,” James said.
Museums — visited by more people than sports events or theme parks put together — seemed a natural partner, he said.
The figures in the totem pole include Bear and Salmon, and a quartet of people representing four races but painted the same color because of the fundamental unity of people, James said. A trio of bears actually showed up while he and others were carving the pole — the first bears seen at Lummi in many years, James said.
“We just took it as a good sign that we are on the right track.”
For the Carnegie, the pole can speak volumes, said Kate Sallada, as the museum this week opens a new exhibit on the effect of humans on the Earth.
The co-founder of The Natural History Museum, Beka Economopoulos, said the totem pole fits with the nonprofit’s work to engage a broader public conversation about climate change.
“They are in red and blue and purple counties around the country,” she said of museums. “And they reach beyond the choir.”
Lummi tribal member Freddie Lane, a photographer and documentary filmmaker traveling with the pole, said the exhibit will include items gifted by native communities that the group visited along the way.
There is a jar of coal dust from the railroad tracks near the boat launch at Horsethief Lake, along the Columbia River, from the Yakama Nation. Even a fishing net once used at Celilo Falls, passed down since the falls were silenced more than 50 years ago by the building of The Dalles Dam. There is a stone net weight, used by Lummi fishers thousands of years ago in the tribe’s sockeye reef-net fishery. Even an ancient stone tool, brought by Reuben George of the Tsleil-Waututh people, who will speak about the First Nation communities’ opposition to the TransMountain Pipeline.
The totem pole carries indigenous stories. But Lane hopes it will encourage a chorus of voices from all walks of life, speaking for nature.
“We are all part of the human family, we are all human beings, we all bleed the same color blood. It is our sacred duty and sacred responsibility to protect the Earth for future generations,” Lane said.