Raising the Totem Pole at Sagkeeng First Nation, Manitoba, Canada

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 Totem Pole arrives at Turtle Lodge, Sagkeeng First Nation, Manitoba

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.


Sagkeeng First Nations leaders, Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, Jewell James and Rueben George stand next to the Totem Pole Eagle of Vision and Leadership, September 6, 2016 at Turtle Lodge

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.


Dr. Kurt Russo of Lummi Sovereignty and Treaty Protection Office, made the effort to hang the mural created during the 2015 Totem Pole Journey, inside Turtle Lodge providing a beautiful backdrop to the ceremonies taking place there

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.


The Totem Pole being lifted from the truck.

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!



The striking Totem Pole stands on its own, surrounded by love and unity of purpose.

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.


The wooden carving gifted to Lummi Nation of the Bears and the Seven Sacred Teachings

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.”


The Totem Pole in the morning light – photo by Paul Anderson

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!

Winnipeg: The Largest Turnout for Totem Journey 2016

I am thankful that we had a fairly quiet day on September 4th, only because we really pushed to get to Winnipeg on September 3rd. Technically, we didn’t quite make it since we were checking into the hotel after 2 am, but we came close. And it gave a little breathing room to the crew as we prepared for what became the largest event as far as attendance numbers since we started our journey.

The Forks in downtown Winnipeg is a sacred location where the Assiniboine River meets the Red River. It is also an exceedingly beautiful place with a striking venue. The guides on bicycles took the totem truck and our support van right into the center of the Forks, so we were positioned proximate to the action.


The amphitheater at the Forks in Winnipeg prior to commencement of the event.  Canadian Museum for Human Rights towers in the background.

Two to three hundred people were on site when the speaking and ceremonies began at 4 pm, September 5th, but that number continuously increased as the event progressed and passersby joined the crowd, resulting in over 500 people for the procession up Main Street. The singing and pipe ceremony at the Forks were very powerful. It was hard for me to focus my attention owing to the dozens of people who crowded around the totem pole to look and ask questions.


Crowds gathered to touch and talk about the Totem Pole at the Forks in Winnipeg.


News folks were also around the totem pole truck during the ceremonies.

When the ceremonies and speaking were finished at the Forks, the event organizers called for everyone to walk to the Thunderbird House, about 3 kilometers (we’re in Canada now!) north through the heart of downtown Winnipeg. The First Nations leaders were walking at the head of the parade, followed by the totem pole, the crowd, and a few vehicles that were part of the event.

I rode in the van with Kurt Russo following the parade, but we had a unique perspective of what was happening, and I knew my colleagues were getting phenomenal video footage and photographs of the parade as it progressed up Main Street north to Portage Avenue in downtown Winnipeg.


Attendees to the event form a parade to move through downtown Winnipeg to the Thunderbird House

The intersection of Portage and Main is where the procession stopped with the totem pole in the center of the intersection and a round dance formed to circle it for 20 minutes or so, with much vocalization about the excitement of this happening. Oddly enough, that location approximates the geographic center of North America and the energy of the moment was off-scale.


Round Dance around the Totem Pole at Portage and Main in downtown Winnipeg

On a personal note, I couldn’t have been more surprised to look out the right-side van window to see my daughter’s best friend watching the dance. I jumped out to introduce myself (I knew of her only from my daughter Rachel’s Facebook page) and talk with her for a few moments as we prepared to move on to Thunderbird House. I knew she was planning to be at this later event, so she joined with the procession moving north up Main Street.

Only a short while later, we arrived at Thunderbird House and everyone proceeded into the beautiful building north of downtown Winnipeg to settle down for some learning. The black snake in the procession made a striking part of the entire event, as did the chiefs at the head of the parade, some of whom were in full regalia.


The Black Snake wound through the procession as we moved north

As Kurt parked the car, the second odd thing happened, although I didn’t learn it was odd until the next day (see my post about tomorrow’s events). Another older fellow with long white hair and a flowing white beard named Isaac started trying to park his little car in a spot where I was standing to save the spot in case our van was unable to fit in a small space in which Kurt wanted to try parking. It turned out we did need the space I was saving, but Isaac and I had a cordial conversation about it before we both went inside.

I sat down at the back of the audience near the door because I was actually looking for Rachel who intended to arrive at this speaking event at about 6 pm (she had to work a little late).   The speakers made a powerful reservoir of knowledge and wisdom: Winona LaDuke, Rueben George, Jewell James, Serge Simon, Dave Courchene, Jr., Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Phil Lane, Jr., and Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie. Clayton Thomas-Muller of 350.org and Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs also spoke enlightened words.

Rachel arrived in time to hear Jewell tell his story and speak of the purpose of our journey, and I insisted that we also stay long enough to hear Winona’s presentation. We were rewarded by her telling us what she said to the Enbridge executives during one of their meetings: “You have blurry vision. You have no plan for the future.”

We went over to Rachel’s house then so we could eat and I could see Zaida Jade (15) and Louis Byrd (17 and a senior in high school!), my two younger grandchildren, and so we could have a lovely meal of spaghetti, mostly made with vegetables from Rachel’s garden. Although this turned out to be the only three hours I was able to spend with my smart, beautiful daughter whom I had not seen for three years, as she later wrote to me, “It is too bad but I never imagined having you here at all so I’m thankful for that, it was very cool! I look forward to reading what you write.”

2016 Totem Pole Journeyers

Thanks to all of you for everything that you gave to this momentous effort!


Jewell James, Master Carver House of Tears Carvers and Lummi Nation Sovereignty and Treaty Protection Office


Doug James, Lummi Elder and House of Tears Carver


Dr. Kurt Russo, Journey Organizer and Lummi Nation Sovereignty and Treaty Protection Office


Freddy Lane, Lummi Member and Journey Videographer


Phil Lane, Jr., Hereditary Chief and Elder, Ihanktonwan Dakota and Chickasaw Nations


Rueben George, Tsleil-Waututh Sacred Trust Initiative


Matt Fuller, Journey Social Media Specialist


Richard Jehn, Journey Chronicler


Paul Anderson, Journey Photographer


Nancy Bleck, Journey Photographer



A Statement has been made by thousands . . .

Imbued with the prayers, thoughts, hopes and grief of thousands of people from across the North American continent, the Totem Pole now stands sentinel over the lands, waters and peoples of Winnipeg.

But really, with its brother and sister Totem Poles, they stand sentinel over all the Earth and all of Us.

Lila pilamaya to you Jewell . . .

Photo by Nancy Bleck


Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe – Totem Blessings and Powwow Fun at Eagle Butte

By Richard Jehn, Journey Chronicler

It was an informative and (occasionally) dusty ride from Bismarck, North Dakota to Eagle Butte, South Dakota. The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation northern border begins only25 or miles south of Bismarck, straddles the North and South Dakota border, and is immediately adjacent to the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation south of it in South Dakota. We headed southward toward Eagle Butte, but somewhere along the line got a little mixed up, driving on a dusty gravel road for about 10 miles of the trip.


Journey crew members Kurt Russo and Fred Lane are in the van in the distance, followed by Elders Jewell and Doug James in the truck carrying the totem pole driving down South Dakota Highway 7.

We also passed the location of a small protest on ND highway 6 south of Mandan against the Dakota Access Pipeline that occurred on August 30, with 5 people arrested. Work was continuing as we passed it on September 1.


Construction continues on the Dakota Access Pipeline west of North Dakota Highway 6, south of Mandan

This subsequently became a much larger action on September 3rd when the Dakota Access Pipeline company without warning began work on a long weekend near ND highway 1806, the original site of protests and police action just a couple of hundred yards north of the Sacred Stone and Strong Heart camps. The workers brought along a private security force armed with mace or pepper spray and attack dogs. Several camp residents were injured, but they did prevail and drive out the work crews and stop the bulldozers. To learn more, Democracy Now! was onsite while all of this happened and posted a video here. Update: and subsequently, Amy Goodman was charged with criminal trespass and a warrant has been issued for her arrest (see article here).

I also was privileged to ride in the flatbed truck with Doug James and we listened to a Native American radio broadcast that described in detail the dynamics of the camps at Cannonball, North Dakota. The Sacred Stone camp is just south of the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers and originally formed in early April 2016 before any construction activity began. It was a prayer camp and intended to form a core of peaceful opposition to the intentions of the Dakota Access Pipeline company. As people began to gather when construction ramped up at the end of July, a larger overflow camp was formed just north of the Cannonball River and across the river from the Sacred Stone camp. It was originally named Red Warrior, but the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe wanted to ensure no connotations of radical activism became associated with the camp and it became known as Strong Heart camp; however, the Tribe also recognizes that more activist elements remain in the area, and their smaller encampment is still being termed the Red Warrior camp.

Back to our trip though, we arrived fairly early in Eagle Butte and had time to spend answering questions about the totem pole, which we parked on the Powwow grounds. The rides for the Powwow were already in action and a few food trucks were open, so we had a little time to relax.

At one point, I was fortunate to be in a vehicle that made a trip to the local store. Jewell needed fuses for the truck hauling the totem. This sight met me when I got out of the car.


Remarkable mural on the side of a truck trailer in Eagle Butte, South Dakota

The main event for the totem pole took place at mid-day on September 2 at the Powwow grounds. We moved the truck into a circular open-air event venue and people trickled in as we prepared. When the event began, only about 20 or 30 had gathered, but the rides and food trucks were in full swing and people may have had other things on their minds. It was nice to hear Rueben George’s daughter, Kaiya, speak briefly in gratitude and support of our journey. Cedar Parker also delivered a rousing address to the small circle of people which had formed, followed by words from Rueben, and then Jewell and Doug sang their song, followed with a few words about our purpose. At the end of the ceremony, everyone greeted each other in blessing and thanks for all that we are doing to ensure a healthy environment.


Master Carver Jewell James speaks to a group in Eagle Butte about the 2016 Totem Pole Journey and its mission


Bestowing blessings on the Totem Pole in Eagle Butte

Later that night, we again gathered around the pole out in the open grounds so we could answer questions and connect with people. We got a chance to watch some of the dancing before the full dance competition that was scheduled for Saturday, the day we’d be driving all the way up to Winnipeg, final destination for the totem pole.


Kurt Russo wearing the “NO DAPL Standing with Standing Rock” t-shirt while watching the dancing in the arena at Eagle Butte

I was privileged to have a long conversation with Scott With Horn about our journey, about his activities locally, and our common interests. We parted with great respect for each other and a promise to keep in contact.


Scott With Horn prepared for the dance competition on September 3rd in Eagle Butte