Commemorating healing and resiliency in a redwood

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

For one year, a master carver and his pride of wildcats sawed, whittled, and chipped away at a 4,000-pound redwood log. Their combined force of will and strenuous efforts are permanently affixed on the Arch Bishop Murphy High School campus, residing in the spirit of a fully-grown wildcat emerging from a mountainous forest.

This stunning symbology is what brought so many people together on May 15 as the entire student body, school staff, local school district officials, and representatives from the Tulalip Tribes gathered within Terry Ennis Stadium to commemorate the official debut of a one-of-a-kind healing pole. 

“A little over a year ago, we began carving the healing pole in the spring of 2023. Most of the hands here in the audience today – our students and staff – helped carve this beautiful pole – complete with student signatures across the back,” explained Principal Alicia Mitchell. “We are so grateful to Mr. James Madison for serving as our first ever artist-in-residence. The goal of this project was to provide a source of healing, while rebuilding and strengthening our community from all of the disruption caused to schools throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At the same time, students had a unique opportunity to learn about Coast Salish art and Tulalip culture. This project has complemented our faculty professional development, which has included visits to the Tulalip Hibulb Cultural Center and hosting Dr. Stephanie Fryberg on our campus. As a result of this learning, our U.S. History classes now make trips to the Hibulb Cultural Center, our English classes have sought to include even more Native American voices in their readings, and our Science and Social Studies Department chairs have personally met with the education coordinator for the Tulalip Tribes Natural Resources Department in the hopes of extending the learning beyond our classrooms.”

Tulalip artist and master woodcarver James Madison recently received the Richard and Nancy Wendt Award of Excellence, an award given annually to a person or organization that has demonstrated outstanding support of the arts throughout their lifetime. Deepening his connection with the arts regionally, he embarked on this healing pole journey with both his sons and their fellow Arch Bishop classmates.

One of those classmates is Amaya Hernandez. She was one of the commemoration’s student speakers. “I’m so grateful to have the healing pole on our campus. I’m happy to have representation of my culture here at AMHS. Being one out of 15 Native American students here, it makes me proud that we have made such a big impact to campus. I can’t wait for our community to grow even more here. t’ígʷicid huy, thank you and goodbye,” said the 16-year-old Tulalip tribal member.

“Being able to help my dad create this pole and seeing everyone come together today to celebrate it really means a lot,” added Jevin Madison. “My dad allowed all of Arch Bishop students who were interested and willing to work on the pole with us. Through the process of making it over all these months, I think it helped students who didn’t really understand our Tulalip culture or what we’re about to find some understanding. 

“I witnessed some students open up and ask questions, others who were really excited to help on certain parts of the pole, and then so many who were eager to carve their name in the back of it,” continued the 17-year-old Tulalip tribal member. “I think that just shows the level of respect for Tulalip culture grew as the pole was made because they were able to help work on it and ask questions. With there only being about 15 Native American students here, I think this process helped us come together and form a larger community here at school…that’s healing.”