By Richard Jehn, Journey Chronicler
On September 6th, we left early from Winnipeg to get to Turtle Lodge at Sagkeeng First Nation, about 100 kilometers northeast of Winnipeg. I later discovered we had an exciting ride, as Nancy Bleck, a Vancouver-based photographer, took us north at speeds as high as 160 kilometers-per-hour (that translates to about 100 mph). It was a very straight road much of the time once we were out of town,and her car rode so smoothly that I didn’t realize she was traveling so fast.
The result was that we arrived early enough to ask appropriate directions to the Turtle Lodge from staff at the health center, one of the few prominent buildings we found near the highway. Turtle Lodge is a beautiful hexagonal building set back from the highway and a little bit hidden. I asked and was instructed to speak with David Courchene who was sitting inside the building. Sometime after our initial conversation, I distinctly remember him asking me if the totem pole was being walked from Winnipeg, since Nancy and I did not arrive until 9:20 am, 20 minutes late.
And this is where the second coincidence occurred in the two days. Isaac arrived from Winnipeg shortly after we did, so we had another friendly conversation where I talked about my original connection with Jewell James and Kurt Russo in my role as the managing editor of a small Bellingham environmental newspaper, the Whatcom Watch. As we talked, I also told him that my daughter, Rachel, lived in Winnipeg and he was suitably astonished, telling me that he had shopped frequently at the consignment store that Rachel owned in the Wolseley neighborhood of Winnipeg.
I have refrained from saying much in my short posts about the magic of this entire journey, but it was an undercurrent of everything that transpired since leaving Bellingham on the morning of August 23rd. Even when tension was high, I could feel the current, the electricity of what was happening.
Finally at about 10:30, the totem pole came into the parking area at Turtle Lodge. After a few moments of discussion about where the totem should be parked, Doug James drove the truck up next to Turtle Lodge so photos could be made of the moment.
Immediately following the arrival of the totem and the rest of our party, we went inside and found places to sit down. Spiritual, sacred words were spoken and sacred songs accompanied these moving words. We heard words of deep thanks from David Courchene and Chief Derrick Henderson, as well as thanks from Grand Chief Derek Nepinak. Other Tribal Council members spoke, as did friends of the Tribe.
Following the morning’s proceedings, we ate a wonderful lunch prepared by Tribal members and went outside for the raising of the pole, best described in pictures.
1) The wings are attached to the Totem Pole, almost ready to be raised . . .
2) Moving skyward . . .
3) Almost there . . .
4) The Totem Pole is vertical for the very first time!
Attending to the final details . . . it looks taller than 22 feet … oh, wait, 6.7 meters!
Following the raising of the pole and all the joy and fanfare that came with it, we once again went back inside Turtle Lodge for more words and a magnificent gift from the Sagkeeng First Nation to the Lummi Nation, its gesture of solidarity and determination in its fight against the Energy East pipeline. The carving that the Sagkeeng gifted to Jewell to carry back to Lummi Nation was of the Seven Sacred Teachings, Love, Respect, Courage, Honesty, Wisdom, Humility, and Truth.
After all the profound ceremony and ecstasy of the raising of the pole, the Creator gifted us with a beautiful sunset to end our deeply moving day.
We returned one more time to the northern Sagkeeng First Nation and Turtle Lodge to participate in a roundtable discussion of climate change, fossil fuels, and topics related to the destruction of Mother Earth. A contingent from the Algonquin Tribe came to describe their trials with authority in defending their Tribal lands from the continuous invasion of extractive industries. Jewell and Doug James again highlighted the purpose of the Lummi Totem Journey 2016, its objective to establish connections between indigenous peoples in their efforts to preserve Mother Earth for future generations. Jewell has repeatedly expressed this purpose as “One Heart, One Mind.”
And that brought our journey to a close. We started home from Fort Alexander, Manitoba, Canada at about 1 pm on September 7, arriving in Jamestown, North Dakota late that night, driving from Jamestown to Missoula, Montana the next day (857 miles!), and then arriving in Bellingham just before 7 pm on September 9, 2016. My heart is still pounding a little from that madmen’s drive!