Two Totem Poles meet . . .

A brief stop in Billings, Montana, brought together last year’s Totem Pole dedicated to supporting the Northern Cheyenne against the Otter Creek and Tongue River projects, and this year’s Totem Pole dedicated to First Nations communities in Winnipeg, Manitoba.



Attendees of the Sandpoint, ID Blessing share their thoughts on the Totem Pole Journey

Sandpoint City Council President Shannon Williamson, who also is the Executive Director of Lake Pend Orielle Waterkeeper, shares some reflections at the Lummi Totem Pole Journey blessing ceremony in Sandpoint on August 28th, 2016.

Photographer Lynne Buchanan, who has roots in Florida and has focused on water issues with her work, shares some reflections at the Lummi Totem Pole Journey blessing ceremony in Sandpoint on August 28th, 2016.

Bellingham resident and community organizer Herb Goodwin shares some thoughts along the shores of Lake Pend Orielle during the Sandpoint blessing ceremony of the 2016 Totem Pole Journey. Herb was in town for two events, the other being a kayaktivist protest of the fossil fuel rail shipments coming through Sandpoint.

The Journey in Seattle

By Richard Jehn, Journey Chronicler

In Seattle on August 25th, a profound event took place in St. Mark’s Cathedral on Capitol Hill, owing to the setting for the event and the phenomenal organization of all the people involved with planning the event. The mural that was drawn during Totem Journey 2015 was hung behind the altar in the cathedral, to striking effect. And the echoing inside the building added to the drama and magic of the gathering. Over 400 people were in attendance and were treated to plates full of information.

The totem pole was parked immediately outside the doors to the cathedral and the events began with a smudging of the pole by Lummi elders, Linda Sorriano and Randy Peters.

The Seattle Peace Choir provided music that poignantly bookmarked the entire event, including an inspiring marching song during the closing of the ceremonies.

A key development came from the Episcopal Church Authority, expressing their unconditional support of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The event featured presentations by Ken Workman of the Duwamish Tribe, Shasta Cano-Martin, Secretary of the Lummi Indian Business Council, Chief Phil Lane, Jr., Hereditary Chief of the White Swan Dakotas, Tarika Powell, Senior Research Associate for the Sightline Institute, Father Patrick J. Twohy, a Jesuit Priest, Jewell Praying Wolf James, a Lummi Nation elder and the Master Carver of the Lummi House of Tears Carvers, and LeeAnne Beres, the Executive Director of Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power and Light.

Jewell Praying Wolf James explained all the elements of the totem to us at the request of an audience member. From the top of the pole, the first element is the all-seeing eagle, who provides the leadership; the second element is the full moon on the chest of the eagle, where in the eastern sky as the moon rises one can see an Indian sitting with his legs crossed and bowed head with two feathers; the third element is Father Sky; the fourth element on the left side of the totem is the sitting bear, for strength and endurance in the struggle of life; the fifth element on the right side of the totem next to the bear is the wolf who scouts and reports danger; between them is the spear, but neither bear nor wolf touch the spear, reflecting that they are in peace and harmony; the sixth element is a cluster of four white buffalo with white coat, pink around their lips, noses, and eyes, and red pupil of the eye; the seventh element is the medicine wheel, the four quadrants being painted red, black, yellow, and white to represent all peoples; the eighth element at the bottom left of the pole is the pipe carrier ready to start a prayer and come in peace; the ninth element at the bottom right of the pole is the warrior on the peyote trail, representing the over 10,000-year-old church; and all of the bottom elements of the pole are surrounded by the green of Mother Earth.

Following the formalities inside St. Mark’s Cathedral, the audience was invited to come outside to the pole to bless the pole, sending personal prayers with the journey for healing for the Earth and love, compassion, and empathy for all of Earth’s creatures. Also, the audience was invited to stay and visit with free donuts from a local vendor, and other foods provided by a couple of Seattle food trucks. As people mingled and connected, the energy of the crowd was intense and serene.

The event was co-hosted by St. Mark’s Cathedral, Earth Ministry, and the Sierra Club. Jessica Dye of Earth Ministry was the key organizer and had invaluable assistance from Susan Nicoll of St. Marks and many others who donated their valuable time for a remarkable event.

The Cathedral of the Blue Dome

Totem Pole Journey Day Six
August 28, 2016
Sandpoint, Idaho (City Beach)
Dr. Kurt Russo

“We must have a pure, honest and warm-hearted motivation, and on top of that, determination, optimism, hope and the ability not to be discouraged.
The whole of humanity depends on this motivation.”

~The Dalai Lama,
quoted by Shannon Williamson,
President, Sandpoint City Council)

In every event there are moments of being when you are gifted a silent world inside the spoken word. That was certainly the case at the Sandpoint, Idaho event. It is hard to imagine a more beautiful setting. A sparkling blue lake. A clear, warm morning and a gathering of people who came to share a breath of time under what local environmental advocate Gary Payton described as the “cathedral of the blue dome.”

Over and again, the speakers talked about the power of community to defeat this outrageous and utterly immoral plan to run up to 48 coal and oil trains through Sandpoint every single day.

Shannon Williamson: “As a mother of two children I am standing up to say these trains are unacceptable. And now, many others are stepping up, standing up, demanding to be heard. And thank you, Lummi Nation, for giving us hope, motivation, and optimism.”

Gary Payton: “Though the Lummi Indians are hundreds of miles away, we are brothers and sisters, all part of the Thin Green Line. We understand that climate change is the great moral and spiritual challenge of our time.”

Rueben George: “They came to one small First Nation Band in British Columbia, the pipeline company. The oil companies offered this impoverished community $1.6 billion if they would sign a pipeline agreement. That is $1.6 million for every man, woman and child. And this poverty-stricken community of 1000 tribal members voted unanimously NO because of their spiritual connection to the ancestral lands that fills and renews their spirit.”

I wonder if the ostensible ‘grandfatherly figure’ Warren Buffett, who is a major investor in Burlington Northern Railroad, would have the courage of his convictions to sit with the Salish Kootenai elder and descendant of Chief Joseph who told the crowd:

I had a dream a week ago about a totem pole. And I wondered why I was dreaming about a totem pole. Then my daughter told me the Lummi were coming here with this totem pole to help us fight these coal and oil trains that threaten our land and water and children and so I am here this morning to say that…It is good you are all here this morning and that this…is amazing . We must all awaken but it is our dreams that bring us together.

“I met Mr. Kinder of Kinder-Morgan the company who wants these pipelines. I met him,” Rueben George said,” and I talked with him. I can tell you, they don’t care. They really don’t. We must stand together and refuse their irreverence and indifference. They are irrelevant to our future.”

The crowd included many people from the faith-based community, several of whom spoke at the event. One of the presenters pointed out that the faith community is morally aligned with the spirit and purpose of the journey. The United Church of Christ, the Sisters of Providence, the United Methodists, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia (Washington), the Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches, the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane, have stated that, “We stand in solidarity with our Native neighbors to safeguard the traditional lands, waters, and sacred sites…from destruction.”

Longview United Methodists Church and on through Celilo Falls and the Palouse

Totem Pole Journey Days Four and Five
August 26-27, 2016
Dr. Kurt Russo, Journey Organizer

The residents of Longview are being asked to accept the construction and operation of the Millennium Bulk Terminal. If built it would be one of the largest coal export port terminals in North America, exporting 44 million tons of coal every year to Asian markets. Impacts of the associated train traffic would reach beyond Longview to cities, towns, rivers, and countryside in Idaho and Montana that would suffer the consequences of the dramatically increased number of 1½ mile-long coal trains. It is little wonder that over a quarter million comments were submitted to Washington State’s Department of Ecology by communities such as Longview that were alarmed and appalled by the potential adverse impacts of the proposed terminals and the associated coal trains.

The totem pole journey organizers were asked by local residents to bring the totem pole the United Methodists Church in Longview for a blessing, and to add our voices to their efforts to defeat this foolhardy and feckless proposal.   We have every reason to believe the residents will succeed in defeating the proposal. Looking around the large gathering on the lawn near the church we saw young, middle-age and elderly residents as well as many members of the Cowlitz Tribe, including their Chairman Bill Iyall.

Chairman Iyall emphasized the importance of unity among tribes and between all the communities to defend our natural and cultural heritage. He thanked the Lummi Nation for leading the way in the defeat of the Gateway Pacific Terminal project at Cherry Point. His emphasis on unity was reiterated by Jewell James who thanked the faith-based community, the nongovernmental organizations, and people from many different walks of life who are standing up—and who now know they are not alone. “The large oak is in the tiny acorn,” Mr. James said. “We are all in this together.”

“It’s strange, isn’t it?” totem pole journey documentarist Fred Lane said when the event was concluding. “The same old game. These corporations think they rule over us. I’m looking around and thinking, no. They might have profits and the politicians but we have the power of the people who would pay the price.”   Mr. Lane was touching the heart of the matter. The journey is not about a totem pole. It is about the force that brings and keeps people together for the greater good and that honors the creation.

As the pastor of the church noted, this is not just a Native American issue. It is an issue that goes to the heart of our democracy, our democratic faith, our belief in ourselves, and, ultimately, the fate of life on earth. “It touches all of us,” he said, “like that boy, over there, laying his hands on the eagle on the totem pole. Our spirits are moved, and moving together.”


Celilo Falls, Washington
On nearly every one of the totem pole journeys, Mr. James makes it a point to stop at the small Native village at Celilo Falls. Until the Dalles Dam was completed in 1957 the Falls was one of the most culturally significant natural wonders in North America. This maze of basaltic islands and narrow channels has been a sacred site for Native peoples for at least 10,000 years.

It was a force that shaped a way of life. The people of Cello Village have not forgotten. They remember and they continue their prayers for the forces of this sacred place, for the salmon, and that the Columbia River will one day again run fast and free. Although the journeyers did not stop at the village this year they did go down to the Columbia River near Celilo Falls to pay their respects and add their prayers for the eventual resurrection and resurgence of The Great River.

Into the Palouse

Leaving Celilo, we traveled north and east to make our way to Sandpoint, Idaho. Most of the day was spent driving through the Palouse region in eastern Washington. The name derives from the French word “pelouse” meaning a grassy expanse. The Palouse tribe is also native to this region, calling themselves pallotepellows, or “the people living in the gooseberry valley.”

Those native grassy valleys would soon disappear. In the 1860s cattlemen moved into the Palouse bioregion. Initially the settlers used the hills as pasture, but they were soon farming these slopes, as well. By 1869 the first grain crops were grown in this bioregion, and within ten years of the first plowing water tables in low-lying meadows dropped below the level to allow tilling. The increase in the conversion of native prairie vegetation to field or pasture resulted in the draining of wetlands. Equipment enabled farmers to utilize the steep slopes, further shrinking the habitat for native flora and fauna .

By the early-1880s, the Palouse Prairie had been badly overgrazed and large-scale effects of non-native herbivores were found throughout much of the rangeland of the interior Columbia basin as Cheat Grass replaced native plant species in the steppe region. Between 1940 and 1992 the number of cattle more than doubled, with cattle becoming the dominant grazing animal in the region.

Since 1900, 94% of grasslands and 97% of wetlands in the Palouse have been converted to pasture lands, crop, and hay production.87 Native flora such as the Idaho fescue, Rough fescue, Smallheat goldenweed, and Jessic aster have been replaced by wheat, barley, and lentils, as well as yellow star thistle and twenty-nine other introduced species. The disturbance of the ecosystem has also resulted in the severe reduction in the richness and abundance of native fauna such as the

mule deer, spotted frog, sharp-tailed grouse, while the whitetail jack rabbit and the ferruginous hawk have been nearly extirpated as breeding populations. Of the once-continuous native prairie dominated by mid-length perennial grasses,little more than 1 percent remains, making the Palouse Prairie one of the most endangered ecosystems in the United States.