“Is this the world that we want to leave to our children?”
That is the question posed by Jewell James, Master Carver of the Lummi Nation’s House of Tears Carvers, of the numerous coal port projects around the northwest and beyond.
“We know the answer,” continued James. “We want our children to have healthy air, water and land.”
For the third year in a row, Lummi carvers have hand-carved a totem pole that will journey hundreds of miles, raising public awareness and opposition to the exporting of fossil fuels. And the timing couldn’t be more important, as the Army Corps of Engineers may be deciding by the end of this month whether or not it will agree with the Lummi Nation and deny permits for the Gateway Pacific Terminal Project at Cherry Point. Lummi Nation, in fighting to block the terminal, cited its rights under a treaty with the United States to fish in its usual and accustomed areas, which include the waters around Cherry Point.
This year’s journey, aptly named ‘Our Shared Responsibilities’ began August 21 in Bellingham, the location of the proposed Cherry Point terminal. The pole then traveled through British Columbia, Tulalip, Portland, and Celilo Falls on the Washington/Oregon border, and then on to Yakama, in opposition with the Yakama Nation of the Port of Morrow export project. The journey continues to Spokane, where the Spokane and Blackfeet tribe will unite in their opposition to accelerated hydrological fracking and oil leasing in the northern range of the Rocky Mountains. The journey’s final destination, scheduled for August 28, will be Lame Deer, Montana, to support the Northern Cheyenne, whose sacred lands would be devastated by a proposed coalmine.
“The totem pole design includes an eagle, a buffalo, two badgers, two drummers with a buffalo skull and drum, and a turtle with a lizard on each side. These are symbols of their culture,” explains James. “These people want everyone to know that they love the earth, they love their mother, and they want us to help them protect our part of the earth. “
On August 23, the Tulalip Tribes welcomed the totem pole and guests with songs and blessings. Tribal Chairman Mel Sheldon opened the ceremony and tribal member Caroline Moses led a blessing song for the totem pole.
“The salmon are already dying in the river because of the high temperature. The spawning grounds are poisoned. They [coal companies] have yet to feel the repercussions of that. They are walking away with their hands slapped. These ports, Cherry Point, Port of Morrow, we’re talking about 153 million tons [of coal] annually coming into the Pacific Northwest, loaded with arsenic and mercury,” said James to the group of tribal and community members gathered at the shores of Tulalip Bay. “We’re saying no; we’re united. We’re happy to be at Tulalip because Tulalip is a leader tribe.”
James went on to speak about the united effort to defeat these fossil fuel export projects, saying that, “nobody hears us, because the media doesn’t come to Northern Cheyenne.” The totem pole journey plays an important role in bringing people together, creating new alliances, and empowering the public with information about fossil fuels and the damage they are causing the environment.
“Pope Francis came out with a statement last year that they were wrong and they should have taught the people how to love the earth, not destroy it. They made a mistake. What we need to do as tribal people is to make sure that they live up to the words they put out publicly. We’re calling on everybody to join together. We need to get together because the Earth’s dying. July was the hottest recorded July in recorded history. The Earth is burning. Global warming is a reality and they’re syphoning our rivers dry. Our salmon, our fish, and everything else that depend upon it is dying around us.
“We say it simply, love the Earth. That’s the message that we’re bringing to Northern Cheyenne in unison with us.”
LUMMI NATION, Washington—At each stop on the totem pole’s journey, people have gathered to pray, sing and take a stand.
They took a stand in Couer d’Alene, Bozeman, Spearfish, Wagner and Lower Brule. They took a stand in Billings, Spokane, Yakama Nation, Olympia and Seattle. They took a stand in Anacortes, on San Juan Island, and in Victoria, Vancouver and Tsleil Waututh.
They’ll take a stand in Kamloops, Calgary and Edmonton. And they’ll take a stand at Beaver Lake Cree First Nation, where the pole will be raised after its 5,100-mile journey to raise awareness of environmental threats posed by coal and oil extraction and rail transport.
“The coal trains, the tar sands, the destruction of Mother Earth—this totem [pole] is on a journey. It’s calling attention to these issues,” Linda Soriano, Lummi, told videographer Freddy Lane, Lummi, who is documenting the journey. “Generations yet unborn are being affected by the contaminants in our water.… We need people to take a stand. Warrior up—take a stand, speak up, get involved in these issues. We will not be silent.”
The 19-foot pole was crafted by Lummi master carver Jewell James and the House of Tears Carvers. The pole and entourage left the Lummi Nation on August 17 for 21 Native and non-Native communities in four Northwest states and British Columbia. The itinerary includes Olympia, the capital of Washington State, and Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. The pole is scheduled to arrive at Beaver Lake Cree on September 6.
The journey takes place as U.S. energy company Kinder Morgan plans to ship 400 tanker loads of heavy crude oil each year out of the Northwest; a refinery is proposed in Kitimat, British Columbia, where heavy crude oil from Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline would be loaded onto tankers bound for Asia; and as Gateway Pacific proposes a coal train terminal at Cherry Point in Lummi Nation territory. Cherry Point is a sacred and environmentally sensitive area; early site preparation for the terminal was done without permits, and ancestral burials were desecrated.
In a guest column published on August 11 in the Bellingham Herald, James wrote that Native peoples have long seen and experienced environmental degradation and destruction of healthy ecosystems, with the result being the loss of traditional foods and medicines, at the expense of people’s health.
And now, the coal terminal proposed at Cherry Point poses “a tremendous ecological, cultural and socio-economic threat” to Pacific Northwest indigenous peoples, James wrote.
“We wonder how Salish Sea fisheries, already impacted by decades of pollution and global warming, will respond to the toxic runoff from the water used for coal piles stored on site,” he wrote. “What will happen to the region’s air quality as coal trains bring dust and increase diesel pollution? And of course, any coal burned overseas will come home to our state as mercury pollution in our fish, adding to the perils of climate change.”
James wrote that the totem pole “brings to mind our shared responsibility for the lands, the waters and the peoples who face environmental and cultural devastation from fossil fuel megaprojects.… Our commitment to place, to each other, unites us as one people, one voice to call out to others who understand that our shared responsibility is to leave a better, more bountiful world for those who follow.”
‘This Is the Risk That Is Being Taken’
Recent events contributed to the urgency of the totem pole journey’s message.
Two weeks before the journey got under way, a dike broke at a Quesnel, British Columbia, pond that held toxic byproducts left over from mining; an estimated 10 million cubic meters of wastewater and 4.5 million cubic meters of fine sand flowed into lakes and creeks upstream from the Fraser River, a total of four billion gallons of mining waste. A Sto:lo First Nation fisheries adviser told the Chilliwack Progress of reports of fish dying near the spill, either from toxins or asphyxiation from silt clogging their gills; and First Nation and non-Native fisheries are bracing for an impact on this year’s runs.
On July 24, a Burlington Northern train pulling 100 loads of Bakken crude oil derailed in Seattle’s Interbay neighborhood. The railcars didn’t leak, but the derailment prompted a statement from Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and Area Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians.
“People need to know that every time an oil train travels by, this is the risk that is being taken,” she said. “These accidents have occurred before. They will occur again. … The rail and bridge infrastructure in this country is far too inadequate to service the vast expansion of oil traffic we are witnessing.”
A year earlier, on July 6, 2013, an unmanned train with 72 tank cars full of Bakken crude oil derailed in a small Quebec village, killing 47 people. An estimated 1.5 million gallons of oil spilled from ruptured tank cars and burned; according to the Washington Post, it was one of 10 significant derailments since 2008 in the United States and Canada in which oil spilled from ruptured cars.
Some good news during the journey: As the totem pole and entourage arrived at the Yankton Sioux Reservation in Wagner, South Dakota, word was received that the Oregon Department of State Lands rejected Ambre Energy’s application to build a coal terminal on the Columbia River; the company wants to ship 8.8 million tons of coal annually to Asia through the terminal.
One of the concerns that communities have about coal transport is exposure to coal dust; those concerns are shared by residents of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, where proponents of a coal terminal on the Mississippi River forecast an increase in Gulf Coast coal exports from seven million tons in 2011 to 96 million by 2030.
Dr. Marianne Maumus of Ochsner Health Systems told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that coal dust contains heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium and mercury, and can cause cancer, neurological, renal and brain-development problems.
“I think the risk is real. I think there is a lot of potential harm from multiple sources,” Maumus told the Times-Picayune.
James said there are alternatives to coal and oil—among them energy generated by wind, sun and tides.
“But we’re not going to move toward those until we move away from fossil fuels,” he said.
In his Nation’s territory, Yakama Chairman JoDe L. Goudy told videographer Lane he hopes the pole’s journey will help the voice of Native people “and the voice of those people across the land that have a concern for the well-being of all” to be heard.
“May the journey, the blessing, the collective prayers that’s [being offered] and the awareness that’s being created lift us all up,” he said, “lift us all up to find a way to come against the powers that be … whether it be coal, whether it be oil or whatever it may be.”
Albert Redstar, Nez Perce, advised young people: “Remember the teachings of your people. Remember that there’s another way to look at the world rather than the corporate [way]. It’s time to say no to all that. It’s time to accept the old values and take them as your truths as well.… They’re ready for you to awaken into your own heart today.”
To Unite and Protect
The totem pole journey is being made in honor of the life of environmental leader and treaty rights activist Billy Frank Jr., Nisqually. Frank, chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, walked on in May.
James said the pole depicts a woman representing Mother Earth, lifting a child up; four warriors, representing protectors of the environment; and a snake, representing the power of the Earth. The pole journey has been undertaken in times of crisis several times this century.
In 2002, 2003 and 2004, to help promote healing after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, James and the House of Tears Carvers journeyed across the United States with healing poles for Arrow Park, New York, 52 miles north of Ground Zero; Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 crashed; and Washington, D.C.’s Congressional Cemetery, seven miles from the Pentagon. And In 2011, James and a 20-foot healing pole for the National Library of Medicine visited nine Native American reservations en route to Bethesda, Maryland. At each stop on the three-week cross-country journey, people prayed, James said at the time, “for the protection of our children, our communities and our elders, and generally helping us move along with the idea that we all need to unite and protect the knowledge that we have, and respect each other.”
Members of a Western Washington tribe stopped Tuesday near the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, part of a “totem pole journey” to protest plans to build a coal export terminal north of Bellingham.
The proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal would be located at Cherry Point. According to the project’s website, it would be the largest shipping and warehouse facility on the West Coast, sending dry bulk commodities such as coal, grain and potash to Asian markets.
Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart and congressional candidate Joe Pakootas both spoke out against coal exports at the event, which included Native American songs and a 19-foot totem pole.
Stuckart said the companies and politicians advocating for more coal export terminals are “addicted to fossil fuels.”
He said Spokane serves as a major rail hub for the Inland Northwest and proposed new export terminals, including the Gateway Pacific Terminal, would add an additional 30 miles of trains carrying fossil fuels every day, which could create public safety risks and risk polluting the Spokane River.
Jewell James, with the Lummi tribe, said the terminal would contaminate lands surrounding Cherry Point with arsenic and mercury.
But officials involved in the project say they are taking environmental impacts into consideration.
Craig Cole, a consultant for the Gateway Pacific Terminal Project, said there has never been a more stringent environmental review of a project in the state’s history, and called some of the opposition to the project “nonscientific fear mongering.”
He encourages people to wait for results of an environmental impact statement in two years.
“We’re just saying: Why would you take the word, either of an opponent or proponent of the project, when you can wait for this very extensive environmental impact statement?” Cole said.
The project’s website claims it will provide more than $11 million per year in state and local tax revenue, as well as 1,250 jobs.
“Frankly, I’m more concerned about an overall movement in this state which is aimed at de-industrializing our economy,” Cole said. “There is a very dangerous trend toward opposing anything that has anything to do with industry or manufacturing.”
But James is skeptical.
“No matter what they promise you, it’s still just a promise. In the end, they’re more concerned with the bottom line: Profit,” James said.
Those opposing coal exports scored a victory last week in Oregon, when state regulators rejected a proposal for a coal terminal on the Columbia River that would have exported millions of tons of coal to Asia each year.
James and the Lummi tribe assisted tribes in Oregon in opposing the terminal. He is hoping for a similar result in Washington.
“I hope the people of Spokane and the tribe will start putting pressure on (Governor) Jay Inslee,” James said.
Stuckart said at the event Tuesday that it is unacceptable to use energy independence as a justification to destroy ancestral lands and for rail companies to spill coal in waterways. He said it’s no longer enough to make rail cars safer or to include the city in an environmental impact statement.
“The demand is simple: Leave it in the ground,” Stuckart said.
Golfers and other visitors to the Salish Cliffs Golf Course on the Squaxin Island Indian Reservation are greeted by two Coast Salish totem poles that frame sweeping, territorial views of the Kamilche Valley.
The shorter — 36 feet — and less colorful carving is a welcome pole that has a long and contentious history, dating to 1997 when the Port of Olympia contracted with Squaxin Island tribal member, carver and fisherman Doug Tobin to carve a totem pole for the port’s new Port Plaza on the shores of Budd Inlet.
Along the way to completion, the pole’s fate became entangled in Tobin’s past, which included a manslaughter rap in a 1986 murder-for-hire scheme that took the life of Olympia’s Joanne Jirovec.
I visited the welcome pole this week with Russ Lidman, a retired Seattle University professor, Olympia resident and president of Temple Beth Hatfiloh.
Lidman for years used the welcome pole case history as a teachable moment for students in the university’s master’s program in public administration. A retrospective review of the case looks like a television drama co-starring whipsawed port commissioners, a port director torn in several directions, angry citizens, the local newspaper that early on gave the story less attention, and a talented Native American artist, who happens to be a habitual criminal.
“It’s a really good case study from the point of view of public administration,” Lidman said. “Real screw-ups like this require a lot of actors dropping the ball.”
• The Port of Olympia in the 1990s lacked a transparent, formal process for spending money on public art. They settled on Tobin to carve a Coast Salish welcome pole for the Port Plaza without fully vetting the artist’s criminal background or considering the potential for backlash from friends of Joanne Jirovec.
• The Olympian didn’t write in detail about the contract, or the artist and his criminal past, before the contract was signed. If I remember right — and I covered the port at the time — the newspaper, along with port officials and Squaxin Island tribal leaders, figured Tobin had served his time — albeit less than six years — on the manslaughter charge and deserved a second chance.
• Tobin, who had plenty of help carving the pole — he did only about 15 percent of the work — missed his contract deadline of February 1998 and didn’t complete the pole until 2000. Months would go by without any work performed on the pole. He missed deadlines for performance payments spelled out in the contract, but port officials figured there would be more to lose than gain by canceling the contract.
Later, it became clear why Tobin fell so far behind. While Tobin was under contract to the port, he was also the ringleader of a major geoduck and Dungeness crab poaching ring in South Puget Sound.
• The back of the pole needed to be hollowed out and strengthened with a beam and structural supports to keep it from cracking. It sat enshrouded in a port warehouse for another two years.
That gave state and federal fish and wildlife enforcement officers time to build their poaching case against Tobin, someone they had used as an undercover informant for years before they knew the full extent of his own criminal enterprise.
In February 2002, the port was close to erecting the welcome pole. But on March 18, Tobin was arrested for the theft of geoducks valued at $1.2 million. In 2003, he received a 14-year prison term, nearly twice his sentence in the Jirovec case, and the stiffest poaching penalty in state history.
Soon after the news of Tobin’s arrest broke, friends of Joanne Jirovec descended on the port, demanding that the port scrap its plans to erect the pole to welcome people to the Olympia waterfront. They called the plan an insult to the memory of the slain woman.
• The Port Commission appointed a six-member citizens panel for advice. The panel voted 4-2 to install the pole, but the port commissioners, feeling the heat from the friends of Jirovec, ignored the recommendation.
Port Executive Director Nick Handy tried to sell the pole to the Squaxins, but they declined. Eventually the pole was sold for $30,352 in 2004 to a Seattle art collector, who in turn donated it to the Burke Museum of Natural Culture and History at the University of Washington.
Museum officials initially planned to erect the pole on the university campus, but they, too, deferred action. As the pole sat in limbo, Squaxin tribal members scrubbed every inch of the pole with spruce boughs to cleanse it of any negative energy associated with its past.
In 2005, the museum’s Native American Advisory Board recommended that museum officials contact the Squaxin Island Tribe to see whether they would like to borrow the pole.
The pole sat in storage at museum for several years. Finally, in 2011, the tribe and the museum entered into a 99-year loan agreement, which is reviewed every two years. The tribe brought the pole to the reservation and added it to the entrance to its new golf course.
The welcome pole and adjoining totem pole stand alongside a flag pole that flies both Old Glory and a Squaxin Island tribal flag. There are no inscriptions or plaques describing either pole’s story.
Tribal council member Ray Peters talked to me briefly Thursday about the welcome pole. I think he’d rather talk about the award-winning golf course. But he did shed a little light on the tribal council’s decision to embrace the pole.
“The pole isn’t Doug Tobin’s pole,” Peters said. “A lot of notable artists had a hand in carving and designing the pole.”
Several people familiar with the pole said they were glad it finally found a home, including former Secretary of State Ralph Munro, who served on the port advisory committee all those years ago, and voted to erect the pole at the Port Plaza.
“I’m glad to see the pole up,” he said. “For some people it evokes bad memories, but it’s a beautiful piece of Squaxin art that has inspired a lot of young tribal carvers.”
“We’re pleased that the pole has found a home,” added Burke Museum director Julie Stein.
“I’m glad it’s away from the university,” said Barbara Brecheen a good friend of Jirovec, upon learning the fate of the pole. “I’m surprised the tribe wanted it, but I guess it makes sense.”
I’ve thought long and hard about this column ever since I learned what happened to the welcome pole. I’ve come to the conclusion that the public has a right to know what happened to it. Public money was used to carve it. I’ve also concluded it’s time to separate the art from the artist, to let the art have a life of its own.
“I hope your column doesn’t open up old wounds,” Peters said.
I hope so, too. I don’t think it will.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more here: http://www.theolympian.com/2014/01/12/2926674/benighted-totem-pole-finds-a-home.html#storylink=cpy
The ocean grew choppy and storm clouds darkened the southern sky as we paddled the final miles toward an abandoned Haida village site at the heart of a wedge-shaped archipelago 175 miles in length, 70 miles off the northwest coast of British Columbia. Until recently, this remote chain of islands was known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, but three years ago, the Haida Nation returned that colonial name to the provincial government, in a ceremony using the same style of bentwood box that once housed the remains of the dead. The place is now Haida Gwaii (pronounced HI-duh GWY) — Islands of the People — both officially and, unquestionably, in spirit.
The hillsides soaring above our kayaks, scraped bare by clearcutting three decades earlier, were an emerald-hued crew cut, a fuzz of young alder and spruce interspersed with occasional landslides. On a distant ridge beyond stood the silhouettes of giants, stark evidence of where logging had ground to a halt.
There is an even older Haida name for this archipelago, which roughly translates to “Islands Emerging From (Supernatural) Concealment.” It is an apt moniker. On these craggy islets — perched on the edge of the continental shelf and pressed against the howling eternity of the Pacific — life exists on such a ferociously lavish scale that myth and dreams routinely mingle with reality.
For three days, Dave Quinn and I — neighbors, friends and longtime sea kayak guides — had rejoiced amid a world of windswept islets, breaching humpbacks, raucous seabirds, natural hot springs and solitude. While it was glorious to return to waters we knew so well, there was a deeper purpose to our journey: Paddling from dawn until dusk and then some, we’d been racing north toward Windy Bay.
Even as our kayaks crunched aground on its white shell beach, elsewhere bags were being packed, boats readied, float planes fueled. Two great war canoes — long and colorful — were plowing southward from the traditional Haida strongholds of Old Massett and Skidegate, crammed with youth. The next morning, we would all converge here, to witness the raising of a monumental pole (a term preferred by First Nation groups over “totem”) in the southern archipelago, the first such event in over 130 years, since smallpox decimated the local population and left every village unoccupied. That fishermen, loggers, police and government officials would join alongside the Haida Nation in celebration, after decades of bitter land-use conflict, marked a once unimaginable reconciliation — and a way forward extending far beyond these remote shores.
After setting up our tent and brewing cowboy coffee, we set off on foot toward the village site — Hlk’yaah in Haida — tucked in an adjacent cove. Just a few steps into the forest, we paused in awe. Arrow-straight trunks, the girth of minivans, rose like cathedral columns from a thick blanket of moss cloaking the forest floor. Drenched with an average of 250 days of rain annually, the conifers of Haida Gwaii — red cedar, Sitka spruce, western hemlock — attain storybook proportions. According to the West Coast writer John Valliant, “These forests support more living tissue — by weight — than any other ecosystem, including the equatorial jungle.”
Forty years earlier, a logging company applied to move its clearcutting operations from northern Haida Gwaii — at that time ravaged by industrial-style logging — to this very soil. As John Broadhead, a local conservationist, wrote: “The company couldn’t have been leaving behind an area of more ecological devastation, or moving to one more pristine.” Having witnessed the frontier’s rapacious appetite drive sea otter and whale populations to the brink, the Haida voiced immediate opposition, but it seemed unimaginable that anyone might deflect the logging juggernaut.
The ’70s and ’80s were a time of excess and frenzy on this coast, when tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of salmon could be hauled from a single net, and the hewing of trees worth $20,000 each was not uncommon. While the Haida engaged in a decade of fruitless committee meetings, negotiations and court cases, clearcutting crept relentlessly southward.
By 1985, the small nation was fed up. Establishing a remote camp on Lyell Island, they settled in for the long haul, standing arm in arm, blockading a logging road and day after day turning back furious loggers who in many cases were neighbors, and even friends. Beyond lay Windy Bay, and some of the last remaining stands of “Avatar”-scale old growth on the coast. Tensions skyrocketed, and soon national news outlets descended.
Eight months later a showdown took place and as police officers moved in, a young Haida Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer was forced to arrest his own elders. Over the next two weeks, 72 protesters were shackled and led away. But the images that emerged changed the mood of a nation, and led to an unprecedented agreement between the Haida Nation and the government of Canada. Agreeing to manage cooperatively what, in 1993, would become Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, they created an accord now emulated around the world. And while roots of the Haida revival can be traced back to the ’60s — when the lost arts of canoe building, mask making and pole carving began to re-emerge — it was the blockade and the resulting co-management of traditional territory that changed everything.
Dave and I arrived at the once-abandoned village site to find a hive of activity: electrical generators, an excavator and steaming vats of seafood chowder. At the center of everyone’s attention — though still horizontal — the 40-foot Legacy Pole, celebrating the 20th anniversary of moving from conflict to reconciliation with the establishment of the park. Lying beside a recently constructed longhouse, and surrounded by carvers, its 17 deeply incised figures, all based on the traditional Haida ovoid form, sprang from luxuriant cinnamon-colored cedar.
Although the raising was just 24 hours away, plenty of work remained to be done. Penciled design lines were shaved away, even as traditional black and red paints were applied. (The red, interestingly, was “Navajo” from Benjamin Moore.) Jaalen Edenshaw, the lead carver, quietly shaped a raven’s eyes as he told us of selecting a living tree from the forests. Alongside two apprentices, he had shaped the pole for an entire year. Among the many modern stories depicted in his design was the blockade, symbolized by five protesters with interlocked arms. With an eagle at the peak and a sculpin fish at the foot, the pole also tells of Gwaii Haanas becoming the first area on the planet to be protected from mountaintop to ocean floor when a National Marine Conservation Area was added to surrounding waters in 2010.
Amid the crowd was Guujaaw (pronounced GOO-jow), Mr. Edenshaw’s father and the widely recognized former president of the Haida Nation, who had stared down decades of negotiators and became emblematic of the Haida’s dignified, nonviolent resistance.
Suddenly, above the hubbub, came a cry: “Guuj! How about a birthday song?” The war canoes had arrived, and one of the young paddlers was celebrating a birthday. Guujaaw raised a skin drum, its rhythmic beat echoing through the forest like a heart. As he launched into a forceful chant — “Hey hi yo, ha wee ah” — everyone joined in. The young birthday boy rushed forward, dancing a traditional Haida stomp, knees deeply bent, arms in the air. Then, as quickly as it began, the song ended, and the carvers returned to their work.
The next morning we woke from our tent to find an immense Coast Guard cutter anchored offshore, surrounded by an armada of smaller fishing vessels. Zodiacs began shuttling dignitaries, elders, children and curious visitors ashore. By noon, more than 400 people had gathered — unquestionably the most to stand on these shores since the village was abandoned 150 years previously.
By early afternoon the skies had cleared. Chiefs gathered in ceremonial headdresses adorned with ermine skins and sea lion whiskers. Blessings were given, speeches made. A bare-chested man in a nightmarish mask danced to clear away malevolent spirits, and afterward, a matriarch splashed water over the pole, purifying it. Children followed, tossing handfuls of fluffy eagle down that floated on a soft breeze.
Six immense ropes — two inches in diameter — had been lashed to the top of the pole, and at last the assembled crowd was directed to find places on each. Weighing 7,000 pounds, the pole was relatively light, but a weathered Haida fisherman explained that any pole raising can be dangerous. The countdown began. Boots bit into mud, backs heaved, and the great pole floated skyward. In a blink it was up. A few more hoarsely shouted instructions — “Pull on the yellow rope! Ease off on blue” — and it stood vertical. Cheers erupted. Boulders were rolled into the deep hole at its base, pounded in place with long wooden beams. Shovel after shovel of gravel followed.
Two days later, Parks Canada and the Haida Nation hosted a potlatch, or celebratory feast, and in Haida tradition, every person on the islands was invited. The Canadian government outlawed potlatching from 1884 to 1951, making the event a poignant symbol of progress. In a community hall packed to the rafters, I found myself sitting near Allan Wilson, a hereditary chief from Old Massett and the junior Mountie officer forced to arrest his own elders at the blockade, decades ago. He is a squat, powerful man, and his crew cut was peppered with white. A tangle of necklaces hung from his neck. “To this day I remember every step I took,” he said. “My legs felt like they weighed 300 pounds each.” He paused, then laughed. “I was happy it was raining, so no one could see my tears.”
I asked about the pole. “It feels as if we’ve had a big pot here on Haida Gwaii with a hole in it,” he said. “Now that missing piece has been put back in. The leak has been plugged. And all our stories, from before and those still to come, can stay in there.”
Later, 14 elders who stood on the line were introduced. As drums beat and dancers danced, Miles Richardson — who led the resistance during the blockade — uttered once again the words heard on newscasts across Canada: “We are here to uphold the decision of people of the Haida Nation. There will be no logging in Gwaii Haanas anymore.” The deafening applause was that of a nation whose history now lies newly ahead.
TULALIP — When it came to healing the rift between local Indian tribes and the white world that once stripped Snohomish County’s original inhabitants of much of their culture, there has been no more important figure than William Shelton.
Early in the 20th century, Shelton worked hard to restore and preserve early tribal traditions that had been banned on the Tulalip Indian Reservation for decades.
At the same time, he offered an olive branch to the non-tribal community, reaching out to speak at club meetings and schools. He attended fairs and gave radio interviews.
He served as an ambassador, a liaison between the two worlds.
A Tulalip tribal member, a historian and a filmmaker recently joined forces in hopes of making a documentary to spotlight Shelton’s effect on local tribal and non-tribal culture alike.
“I really think that people need to know about William Shelton,” said Lita Sheldon, the tribal member spearheading the project.
Her goal, she said, is to make an hour-long documentary to air on the History channel, Biography channel or PBS.
Sheldon, along with Everett-based historian David Dilgard and Bellingham video producer Jeff Boice, started the project in 2012 with a short video overview of Shelton’s life.
The 11-minute video, supplemented with historical photos and footage, features an interview with Dilgard in which he describes how Shelton revived tribal art on the Tulalip reservation by carving his “sklaletut” pole in 1912.
Shelton interviewed tribal elders about their encounters with spirit helpers, including animals, birds and people, and depicted them in carvings on both sides of a 60-foot pole.
Sklaletut is the word for spirit helpers in Lushootseed, the language of Puget Sound-area Indian tribes.
“There is a broken link between my race and the white people,” Shelton wrote in “Indian Totem Legends of the Northwest Coast Country” in 1913, an article originally printed for an Indian school in Oklahoma and later in The Herald.
“So I thought I better look back and talk to the older people that are living and try to explain our history by getting their totems and carve them out on the pole like the way it used to be years ago,” Shelton wrote.
The pole has deteriorated over the years, but part of it still stands in front of Tulalip Elementary School on the reservation.
Shelton carved several other poles, including one that stood for decades at 44th Street SE and Evergreen Way in Everett — for which the Totem restaurant was named.
The pole deteriorated and was taken down in the late ’80s or early ’90s. It’s now being preserved in a warehouse on the Tulalip reservation.
About 200 of the 1,000 items in the collection of the recently built Hibulb Cultural Center either were made by Shelton or came from among other items stored on his family’s property, assistant curator Tessa Campbell has said.
Shelton ran the sawmill on the reservation and served as a translator for tribal elders who did not speak English. He supervised timber sales, served for a time as police chief and sold war bonds during World War I.
He spoke at the dedication of Legion Park in Everett shortly before his death from pneumonia in 1938 at age 70, according to the city.
In the 1990s, Lita Sheldon worked with Boice, the filmmaker, on short historical and Lushootseed language videos on the reservation.
Boice, a former videographer, editor and producer at KVOS-TV in Bellingham, did freelance video work for the Tulalips for several years, including recording tribal events.
Sheldon said she needs to raise about $60,000 to fully fund the documentary. The cost would include travel to locations in the East and Midwest where William Shelton sent some of his poles, she said.
The film project had a “kickstarter” web page last summer but received only a little more than $2,800 in pledges, so the idea was shelved temporarily.
Sheldon hasn’t given up, though. She said she hasn’t asked the Tulalip Tribes for funds.
Niki Cleary, a spokeswoman for the tribes, said the project could be eligible for funding as a tribal endeavor, but Sheldon’s group would have to apply. The group also could gain nonprofit status and apply through the tribes’ annual charitable contribution program, she said.
Lita Sheldon, 61, works as the librarian at the Hibulb center but stressed that she is doing this project on her own.
She said it’s not just a matter of money but also of gathering more information about the former tribal leader.
Much of the history about Shelton came through his daughter, Harriette Dover, who died in 1991, as well as from other surviving relatives.
Sheldon is hoping more people with knowledge of William Shelton come forward.
“There’s not a definitive tribal history written,” she said. “This is the closest thing to a tribal history.”
Anyone interested in the William Shelton documentary project may contact Lita Sheldon at email@example.com.
The story of a raven, two fishermen and a salmon was emerging from the trunk of a Washington red cedar last week under the skilled hands of master carver Tommy Joseph. Today, he will complete the carving and on Saturday a public “Celebration of the Raising of the Totem Pole” will be held as it’s installed permanently in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
Mr. Joseph, a member of the Tlingit people of southeast Alaska, was born in Ketchikan and lives in Sitka. He began carving the totem pole, which was commissioned by the museum, on Nov. 26 in the R. P. Simmons Gallery, where he will be until 5 p.m. today.
The totem will be unveiled this weekend at the entrance of Polar World: Wyckoff Hall of Arctic Life and the Alcoa Foundation Hall of American Indians. The all-ages event will begin at 10:30 a.m. with Tlingit song and drumming by musician Morgan Redmon Fawcett. Following the celebration, Mr. Fawcett will play Native American flute, and guided tours of Alcoa Hall and other activities will be offered (included in museum admission).
The 16-foot tall totem pole is a blend of traditional and contemporary practices. The formal qualities of the bold stylized components, and the fact that they memorialize a story told by a Tlingit elder, are timeless. Mr. Joseph carves with hand tools that would have been recognizable generations ago, including an adz, gouges and knives, some of which he made. However, the vivid paints are latex.
When the museum commissioned the totem pole, it requested a story that included a raven but was otherwise unrestricted. That gave Mr. Joseph, 49, an opportunity to fulfill a project that had been on his mind for three decades.
“They told me I could pick any story. This story has never been told before. When I first heard it, I wanted to tell it,” Mr. Joseph said last week.
The description he gave the museum was of two young men on a hunting trip:
“While out on the open ocean with a storm approaching, a young man spotted a large seal and fired at it. He was happy to see that his aim was true, and he piloted his boat over to haul in his catch. The young man grabbed the seal by its tail, but it began to thrash about. So as not to lose it to the ocean waves and the approaching storm, he bit down on the tail, gripping hard between his teeth while grabbing the seal’s flippers with his strong hands and arms.
“In a boat not far away, the young man’s hunting partner and Clan brother was watching this entire scene unfold. He fired a shot into the seal, saving the catch. The hunt was a big success, and both men were able to bring food home to their families, along with an adventure story that would live on for generations to come.”
But there’s more, a personal connection. The men in the boats were Mr. Joseph’s father and the elder who related the story in the mid-1980s. Mr. Joseph’s father was lost at sea when he was 6.
“The museum wanted a traditional raven story,” Mr. Joseph said. “But what is a traditional raven story? It’s a story an elder told. Raven is my Dad’s moiety [descent group].” Mr. Joseph is of the Eagle Moiety.
The raven, at the bottom of the totem pole, appears in Tlingit legends, myths and creation stories. The middle figures are the hunters in dugout canoes. The top figure, a dog-salmon, completes the circle of life, the seal eating the salmon and the people, the seal.
“Alaskan natives still eat seals today,” Mr. Joseph said. “They’re part of our subsistence lifestyle.
“A totem pole is a visual tool for telling a story,” he explained. “The whole purpose is to be a reminder of the story. [Subjects include] migration, individuals, groups of people, events, history, clan history; grave markers, mortuary poles that memorialize people.”
Mr. Joseph first became infatuated with wood when he made a halibut hook out of yellow cedar in a third-grade woodcarving class. His art includes Tlingit armor, masks and bowls in addition to totem poles. He sells them at his Raindance Gallery in Sitka along with work by other Alaskan native artists.
Funded by a Smithsonian visual artist grant and a USA Artist Fellows award, he traveled to 20 museums and collections in the U.S. and abroad in 2009 to study Tlingit armor. The Alaska State Museum, Juneau, presented the first exhibition of Mr. Joseph’s armor this year. In July, he gave a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talk on constructing Tlingit armor.
At his gallery, he teaches carving in affiliation with the University of Alaska Southeast, Sitka Campus. “I always hope there’s going to be some of our young people who will be interested. But to keep [the tradition] going, I’ll teach anybody of any age who wants to know, as long as they’re old enough to work safely.”
For 21 years he ran the wood studio of the Sitka National Historical Park’s Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center. While there he observed leading wood conservators from the National Park Service and now he conserves, restores and replicates totem poles for the Park Service and other institutions and individuals.
“It’s a huge honor for me that [this totem pole] will be in the Carnegie Museum forever,” Mr. Joseph said. “I have the coolest job around. I get to go to work every day and make stuff, and share it with everybody.”
Tlingit artifacts including baskets, halibut hooks and objects relating to the totem pole creation process may be seen in the Simmons Gallery today through Friday. Information: 412-622-3131 or www.carnegiemnh.org.
Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1925.
Just months ago, members of the Haida First Nation raised a carved totem pole in Gwaii, a protected area, for the first time in more than 130 years. The celebration marked the 20th anniversary of the agreement that the Haida people have with the Canadian government to protect their homeland.
Jason Aslop, from the Haida Heritage Centre, talked to BBC News about the importance of the raising legacy totem pole. “Raising a pole again in Gwaii signifies our resurgence and our resilience to repopulate and take back our culture and began to put place markers back into our traditional village sites.”
Like many of Canada’s First Nation people, from the 1870s to until the 1970s, Haida children were taken from their parents and sent to boarding schools, where their cultural practices and languages were banned.
Haida First Nation peoples surround the legacy totem pole before it was raised in August. (VancouverSun.com)
The Canadian government has apologized, but despite what happened in the past, today, the Haida culture is thriving. And tourism plays a big role in the Haida people’s success.
A report from First Nations in British Columbia says the tourism industry is one of the largest economic sectors in the province, worth copy3.5 billion. The government wants to grow tourism to copy8 billion by 2016 as part of its “Gaining the Edge” policy. This amounts to a 5 percent growth each year, according to the report.
Tourism continues to grow because 1 in 4 visitors come to the province seeking an authentic aboriginal tourism experience.
Tourists are drawn to Haida Gwaii Islands on the northwestern coast of British Columbia because it is famous for sea kayaking. A BBC News report says that most tourists rent kayaks for a week, which costs about $400 for two people. An 8-day guided kayaking tour costs around $2000 per person.
Many tourists visit the centuries-old cedar poles, and long house remains at the Haida heritage sites in the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. The Haida Heritage Center in Skidegate allows tourists to learn about their culture.
Art is one of the main ways that tourists connect with the Haida people. An art route created throughout Gwaii Haanas allows visitors to meet local artists.
Ben Davidson, a Haida wood carver, is one of the artists that tourists can meet during their tour. “My generation and my children’s generation, really, are stepping up to the plate and relearning old traditions and wanting to be part of the culture as well as the art,” Davidson told BBC News.
A new video from Parks Canada follows the carving and raising of a 42-foot totem pole on Haida Gwaii this past summer. The first pole raising there in 130 years, it commemorates the 20-year anniversary of the creation of Gwaii Haanas National Park.
The Gwaii Haanas Legacy Pole was raised on August 15, 2013, at Hlk’yah GawGa (Windy Bay) on Lyell Island before a crowd of 400.
“Monumental poles are more than just art. They hold histories, they mark events and they tell stories,” explains artist Jaalen Edenshaw, whose design was chosen by a selection committee made up of a hereditary chief, two Haida citizens, a carver and two Gwaii Haanas staff members. Proposals were submitted without names attached, evaluated solely on their story and design.
In the video, Jaalen shows the different stories carved into the impressive pole, including one which symbolizes the 1980s blockade which protected the region from logging and led to the creation of Gwaii Haanas National Park. Another carved feature recognizes the formative influence of earthquakes on Haida Gwaii, which saw its famed hot springs dry up following seismic activity a year ago.
“The figure is ‘Sacred One Standing and Moving’,” Jaalen explains, “and as he moves, that’s when Haida Gwaii shakes and that’s what causes the earthquakes.”
The pole raising was a team effort, with dozens of Haida people and visitors pulling together on five long lines to erect it and lodge the base of the red cedar pole in a pre-dug hole for stability.
The whole process is captured from a bird’s eye-view via a small go-pro camera placed on top of the pole.
Offering solidarity to Indigenous Nations, last month five Carvers from the Lummi Nation House of Tears set out on a journey up the Pacific North West Coast hoping to send a message of Kwel’Hoy, or ‘We Draw The Line’ to the resource extraction industry. With them, lain carefully on the flat bed of a truck, the Lummi carried a beautifully-carved 22-foot cedar totem pole for Indigenous communities to bless along the way. Their journey gained international attention as a pilgrimage of hope, healing and determination for the embattled Indigenous Nations they visited.
The rich prairies and clear streams of Otter Creek, Montana, land of the Northern Cheyenne, were the first stop on the Totem Pole’s profound journey. Both the Lummi carvers who made the 1,200 mile trip inland and the Northern Cheyenne who received them, currently face major, interconnected threats from proposed coal mining developments. Bound by this common struggle the meeting of these Peoples resonated with a deep significance that replicated along the rest of the Lummi’s spiritual trail.
For several years now the Northern Cheyenne have been resisting Arch Coal Inc., the second largest coal producer in the U.S. In 2012, the company applied for permission to begin surface mining operations at Otter Creek spanning a vast 7,639-acre area. If the Montana State government approves of the company’s application, the impacts on public health, land, water and air quality would be significant, just as they have been elsewhere in Powder River country.
Other Indigenous Nations–including the Oglala Sioux whose traditional homelands and hunting grounds are located in southeastern Montana–have joined the Northern Cheyenne in their opposition to the proposed mine at Otter Creek. The impact of the proposed Arch Coal mine is also a concern to local ranchers, who are standing with their Northern Cheyenne neighbours. All parties are equally concerned about the likely impacts of the Tongue River Railroad Co’s proposed Tongue River railway that would serve Arch Coal’s Otter Creek mine.
Photo by Paul Anderson
In both the case of the mine and the railroad, Indigenous and other local communities have complained of a lack of fair process. They feel foresaken by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the Surface Transportation Board, the bodies charged with ensuring a fair and transparent process. Both government agencies appear to be ignoring the cultural and environmental importance of the area and the desires of its residents in order to push both projects forward.
1,200 miles away, the Lummi Nation have been fighting a battle of their own. Pacific International Terminals plans to build the largest coal port in North America known as the Gateway Pacific Terminal, at Xwe’chi’eXen, or Cherry point, a Lummi ancestral village and burial ground. The new port, jointly owned by SSA Marine and Goldman Sachs, would become a hub for exporting coal from the interior. Coal from the Powder River Basin by Peabody Energy would be hauled by trains along BNSF rail lines from Montana and Wyoming through Sandpoint, Idaho, to Spokane, down through the Columbia River Gorge, then up along the Puget Sound coast to Cherry Point.
Linking the struggles of the Lummi and Northern Cheyenne Peoples, the railroads are raising concerns about impacts to human and environmental health as well local economies. The coal port itself poses a serious threat to the local and surrounding marine ecosystems and livelihoods, not to mention and the cultural and spiritual integrity of Cherry Point itself.
Speaking at the blessing of the Totem Pole at Otter Creek, Romona Charles, a Lummi carver, summed up the incredulity and resistance of the Lummi peoples to the proposed development saying: “It (Cherry Point) was an old village and it’s a known grave site. My people are from there…There has not been one time I thought, ‘Let’s go put a coal port at Arlington Cemetery.’”
Folks on the Northern Cheyenne admire the Kwell Hoy’ totem pole. (Photo by Paul Anderson)
The reason Lummi, Northern Cheyenne and local communities in Puget Sound and Otter Creek are facing this unprecedented threat comes down to the fact that the US has begun to favour ‘new’ fossil fuels such as natural gas extracted via fracking. Gas-fired power stations are cheaper to construct and permissions are easier to obtain as, according to the authorities, natural gas has fewer environmental impacts. This domestic change of tide has left coal ‘unfashionable’ and shifted the focus of coal mining companies to exporting the mineral to Asian markets. To do this, the extractive industries require new links (the railroads) between the interior and the coast, and new export hubs (the ports) to send the coal off to the next leg of its trip across the Pacific Ocean.
The environmental cost of this change in tactics and the new infrastructure it requires is vast. At a time when anthropogenic climate change has been unequivocally proven, the exploitation of one of the dirtiest fossil fuels around–in order to generate power half way around the globe– spells even more trouble for people and planet.
United in this knowledge as well as the struggle for their lands, their sacred sites and their right to decide, about one hundred people including the Lummi and Northern Cheyenne, conservationists, ranchers and local community members met at Otter Creek for the blessing of the Totem. Sundance Priest Kenneth Medicine Bull, who conducted the ceremony, revealed the ritual’s significance as a way to find a solidarity that transcends the generations. Speaking after the ceremony, he stated, “We need to protect our way of life…I addressed the grandfathers, those who have gone before us, and I told them the reason we were here, and I asked them to hear our prayer and stand beside us.”
For those gathered, the symbolic giving of the Totem marked not only the visible unity of concerned individuals, groups and Nations, but a renewed commitment to say No to mining and destruction and Yes to the protection of life and the cultures that nurture it. This collective commitment is at the heart of the Totem’s message of Kwel’Hoy and the purpose of its journey, as Lummi master carver Jewell Praying Wolf James explained to those gathered:
“We kill the Earth as if we [have] a license to do it. We destroy life on it as if we were superior. And yet, deep inside, we know we can’t live without it. We’re all a part of creation and we have to find our spot in the circle of life…We’re concerned about protecting the environment as well as people’s health all the way from the Powder River to the West Coast… We’re traveling across the country to help unify people’s voices; it doesn’t matter who you are, where you are at or what race you are–red, black, white or yellow–we’re all in this together.”
Leaving Otter Creek and the Powder River Country and, in the following days, ritually winding their way up the Pacific North West Coast from community to community, the Lummi carvers continued to spread the key messages of one-ness and unity throughout the rest of the Totem’s journey.
On September 30, the Totem finally arrived on the lands of the Tsleil-Waututh community in North Vancouver, BC. There, in the company of those standing courageously at the forefront of the struggle against the pipelines of the Alberta Tar Sands, the people planted the Totem pole. A permanent symbol of solidarity and opposition to destruction, the Totem pole stands tall as a reminder of our sacred obligation to the Earth and each another.