By Richard Jehn, Journey Chronicler

The commencement event for Totem Pole Journey 2016 was held at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship on Thursday, August 18 at 7 pm. Shasta Cano-Martin, Secretary of the Lummi Indian Business Council, Roxanne Murphy, Bellingham City Council member, and Carl Weimer, Whatcom County Council member spoke, as did RE Sources for Sustainable Communities manager Matt Petryni, Lummi Nation Sovereignty and Treaty Protection Office staff member, Dr. Kurt Russo, and Lummi Nation Tribal members Fred Lane and Jewell James.

Following the welcome by Reverend Paul Beckel of the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship, Fred Lane and Shasta Cano-Martin opened the event by singing the Lummi Flood Song. Kurt Russo introduced all the travelers, Paul Anderson, photographer; Matt Fuller, social medial; Fred Lane, videographer; Richard Jehn, writer; Doug James, Jewell James’ brother; and Jewell. He asked that Jewell speak to the question of why we do these journeys.

As Kurt began introducing Carl Weimer to speak, he reminded us that Carl discovered the unpleasant fact that the Gateway Pacific Terminal project had illegally performed exploration work at Cherry Point in Summer 2011, disturbing cultural artifacts and bulldozing acres of wetlands.

Carl spoke about the recent moratorium unanimously voted by the Whatcom County Council to cease issuing permits for export facilities of unprocessed fossil fuels. He spoke of the herring fishery at Cherry Point, now almost decimated, but he recalled seeing how alive and active the sea life was when he was younger and how sick the ocean now is. Carl also spoke of the pipeline disaster in Bellingham in 1999, an event that ultimately prompted him to become the Executive Director of the Pipeline Safety Trust. He talked of a recent visit to Whatcom Creek with a federal pipeline official and telling her the story of a memorial totem pole that Jewell donated in remembrance of that explosion and the three lives lost, as they stood near it in the park, saying that it was “very powerful for both of us.”

Carl closed his remarks by saying, “I really appreciate what the Lummi Nation has done, to start changing the conversation, because we are so used to using fossil fuels for everything we do, but we need to transition and that won’t happen until someone changes the conversation.”

Roxanne Murphy, Bellingham City Council member, spoke of her additional role as a child care worker with the Nooksack Tribe. She spoke of the significant expansion of their program in the past couple of year and told us about a trip with 60 Nooksack children to Lake Samish. Others have remarked how intensely joyful these young people are when they have experienced these trips to their homelands, and Roxanne added that she felt the children knew that it was their ancestral homeland and that they had come home. She closed her remarks about the Totem Journey by reminding us, “If you really want to save the environment, follow the lead of the Tribal members.”

During her remarks about working with the Lummi Nation Sovereignty and Treaty Protection Office and in relation to the Totem Journey, Shasta Cano-Martin said, “It’s coming full circle, the protection of our homelands. What are we passing down to our children and to our children’s children?” As she introduced Jewell James, she added “and his huge heart.” She spoke of the many totems that Jewell has spread across North America in commemoration of events, both sad and happy, or in unification for our shared responsibility to protect Mother Earth.
Jewell James spoke of a few of the visions he’s had in his lifetime, one of which in 1978 was the impetus for the totem journeys. And he talked of the unifying force that manifests as the past few Totem Journeys have crossed the nation. “We have to unite. If every church in the United States would say this first, ‘God Created the Earth, Keep It Sacred,’ we would reach our objectives faster.”

Fred Lane also spoke of the unification that is the result of the totem journeys. “Today, right here, right now, I feel this spiritual work is beginning and we are all part of that work, and without your support, we couldn’t go 5000 miles.”

Matt Petryni of RE Sources closed the event with remarks about their work in conjunction with the Lummi Nation to stop the Gateway Pacific Terminal project. He spoke laughingly of friends asking him what he planned to do now that coal terminal project had been stopped, adding that he recognized that their work was just beginning. He closed by saying, “I want to thank the Lummi Nation for inviting the entire community to participate.”