A Vision in the Making

Totem Pole Journey Day Three at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, Washington
By Kurt Russo, Totem Pole Journey Organizer

Mural created during the Totem Pole Journey of 2014

There are moments on the road when the monotony of the journey makes more room for inspired conversation. Passing across the border and making our way through Lummi Indian territory, my Lummi companion imagined how the landscape had changed since the arrival of the settlers. He could almost see how it had been seen.

We know that the sockeye salmon run, since the early twentieth century, has been reduced by 95%. This year there will not be a sockeye fishery. Blame it on the “blob” or intervention on the high seas. One thing we do know, one of the world’s most remarkable temperate rainforests that once stretched unbroken from British Columbia to northern California has been reduced to isolated, fragile remnants, in the span of a few generations. It made my companion wonder—not for the first time—when, as the writer Wendell Berry put it, will the settlers finally be home, here?
Forest Map.jpg

Forest Cover in the United States


The beauty still makes wonder, but also makes us wonder: what happened? It also makes the event in Seattle that much more inspired and inspiring. Over 500 people from across western Washington came to St. Mark’s cathedral on Thursday to see, touch and sense the totem pole. They were greeted at the entryway to the church by a lineal descendant of Chief Seattle, and regaled and sung into being present by the Seattle Peace Chorus. For the next two hours they were able to escape the acid bath of what passes for politics in the American Nation. They heard from the Episcopalian speaker that announced the Episcopalian Church had issued a statement the day before in support of the resistance at Standing Rock to the Dakota Pipeline. Chief Phil Lane, Jr. of the Yankton Sioux Nation spoke about how all persons are sacred beings and how the earth was being torn and terrorized by those with no care for tomorrow, for their grandchildren, or this great good earth. Shasta Cano Martin of the Lummi Indian Business Council called upon those present to be involved and stay involved. She talked about the against-all-odds Lummi victory over a proposed coal port at Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point) in which the Lummi Indians, their voices amplified by tens of thousands of non-Indians, prevailed over a juggernaut of corporate power. She called it a turning point not only in people working together towards the power of one, but also in bringing to an end the onslaught of coal and oil that threatens us all, and the place we call home.

One of the final speakers, the totem pole carver and Lummi tribal member Jewell James, received a long and enthusiastic ovation when he reminded us all: “Governments give permits, but the people give permission! And we say NO!” As Mr. James often reminds his audiences, “It is our Constitution, not theirs! It is a government of the people, and corporations are not people! They have no children or grandchildren, or any moral conscience!”

Behind the speakers, above the altar, was the Sacred Obligations mural. This 24’ by 14’ artwork, directed by the participatory muralist Melanie Schambach and created by individuals across the Pacific Northwest and Canada, illuminated the event with its sublime beauty. The mural manages to say it all in a collage of the circle of life in which one image creates the other. It speaks to Mr. James’ imploring people to get involved and stay involved: never give   up!

It was a witness to Chief Lane’s beseeching those visible and unseen to be of one mind in a celebration of the creation.

It was a moving experience. It always is when the totem pole is blessed at St. Mark’s by good, decent, and caring people who, as Lummi tribal member and totem pole journeyer “came to share this moment of time, this breath of life.” It was a day for the angels.

Upcoming Events:

  • Sandpoint, Idaho, 9:00-11:00 August 28
  • Missoula, Montana, 4:00-6:00 August 28
  • Standing Rock, August 29-August 31
  • Cheyenne River, September 1-3
  • Winnipeg, Manitoba, September 5-7