NAVAJO NATION

Red Road to D.C. totem pole journey this month includes stop at Chaco Canyon

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

DURANGO, Colorado — A 25-foot totem pole carved by Lummi Nation tribal members will start a cross-country journey this month to heighten awareness for sacred sites threatened by resource extraction, development and climate change.

The totem pole was carved and painted by the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation and will begin the Red Road to D.C. tour on July 14.

This includes stops at Bears Ears National Monument in Utah on July 17 and at Chaco Canyon on the Navajo Nation on July 18.

The Lummi Nation – the traditional name is Lhaq'temish – is in the Pacific Northwest region of Washington State.

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Jewell "Praying Wolf" James, master carver with the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation, sings on June 29 during the totem pole visit to Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.

Jewell "Praying Wolf" James, master carver with the House of Tears Carvers, said the group has made totem poles throughout the years that recognize events like the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and to bring attention to environmental and social issues impacting Native Americans and Indigenous peoples.

Totem poles by the group have been placed at medical facilities, homes for veterans and schools, James said.

"The idea is that we're trying to use the totem pole as active art. Yes, there's visions tied behind them. Yes, there's spirituality tied behind them, but we're trying to get people activated – to take a responsible role in defending the Earth," James said.

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The totem pole for the Red Road to D.C. was made from a 400-year-old red cedar tree and depicts animals, nature and Native peoples.

"As the totem pole moves, it carries the spirits of the land it visits. It's like a battery that charges as it travels," states a video posted on the tour's website, redroadtodc.org.

Linda K. Baker, member of the Southern Ute Tribal Council, smudges the totem pole on June 29 during the visit to Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.

It is scheduled to arrive on July 28 in Washington, D.C., for delivery to the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. It will be displayed at the National Museum of the American Indian in the fall.

Totem pole shares message in Durango

The totem pole visited Fort Lewis College in Durango on June 29 as part of a separate journey.

Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, a member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, stood several feet from the totem pole as she sang a song for it during the stop at the college.

"I stepped away, I stepped to the side because this is a being," Lopez-Whiteskunk said. "This represents so much. It's part of our environment. It speaks to many of us."

A bald eagle, Chinook salmon and sea bear are carved on the totem pole, which will start a nationwide tour in July to raise awareness about resource extraction and development that threaten sacred sites.

Tim Peterson and his wife, Anna Peterson, were among the dozens of Durango residents who visited the totem pole.

They placed their hands on the sea bear symbol, a motion that Lummi tribal members said blesses and strengthens the totem pole.

"The thing that excites me most about this is elevating the attention of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (and) the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Bringing that message all over and then eventually to D.C., I think is really important," Tim Peterson said.

Free, Prior and Informed Consent is an article in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that affirms Indigenous Peoples' rights to self-determination, participation and decision-making on developments that may affect them or their lands.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

Darryl Slim touches a hand carved on the totem pole during the June 29 visit to Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.

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