2017 Totem Pole Journey

Kwel Hoy

An exhibition by the Natural History Museum
and Lummi Nation

This year’s Totem Pole Journey is a collaboration effort between the Lummi Nation and the Natural History Museum. The exhibition centers on the Totem Pole Journey, a multi-year initiative (2013-2016) to raise awareness about our shared responsibility to land, water, and people. Since 2013, members of the Lummi Nation have been transporting a Totem Pole carved by Master Carver Jewell Praying Wolf James and the House of Tears Carvers to sites impacted by environmental change. As it travels, the Totem Pole draws a line between the dispersed but connected ecological concerns throughout North America, representing the unprecedented alliance of tribal and non-tribal communities as they stand together to advocate a sustainable relationship between humanity and the natural world.

For Kwel’ Hoy: We Draw The Line, the Totem Pole will enter a museum for the first time, where it will be paired with a collection of artifacts collected along the route of the 2017 Totem Pole Journey. Charged with the stories of resilience they have picked up on their journey across the country, they connect the museum–and the museum public–to the living universe in which they are enmeshed.

The exhibition stands as a powerful bridge between the Museum of Natural History and the communities that are working hardest, in the words of the American Alliance of Museum’s Code of Ethics “to foster an informed appreciation of the rich and diverse world we have inherited . . . [and to] preserve that inheritance for posterity.”

Why museums? Museums’ curatorial and programmatic choices create public meaning in profound ways that transcend mere scientific facts. They educate the public, define values, influence behavior and normalize perspectives. They mediate our understanding of nature and humans’ place in the world.

Imagine if museums were providing the context, research-based visionary narratives, immersive experiences, and opportunities for audience identification and engagement with the struggles of communities on the front lines of the ecological crisis?

The mission of the Natural History Museum is to connect and empower scientists, museums, and frontline communities to address critical environmental and social challenges. By championing a vision of science for the common good and framing an understanding of nature as a commons, we aim to foster the global citizenship vision and resilience needed in at time of profound environmental and social change.

The 2017 Totem Pole Journey has already begun. The send-off blessing took place at the Lummi Nation Tribal Center in Bellingham on October 12th, with blessing stops in Vancouver, British Columbia (October 13th), Seattle, Washington (October 14th), Tacoma, Washington (October 15th), Vancouver, Washington (October 16th) and Portland, Oregon (October 17th). The Totem Pole is now continuing on its Journey to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where it is expected to be on exhibit along with the gathered artifacts in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

The opening event at the Carnegie Museum will be on October 23rd. There will be a free event in the CMOA Theater that will be led by a delegation of Tribal elders and leaders: Jewell James (Lummi), Doug James (Lummi), Freddie Lane (Lummi), Faith Spotted Eagle (Yankton Sioux), Reuben George (Tsleil-Waututh), Valine Crist (Haida), and Judith LeBlanc (Caddo).  The event will involve blessings, talks, and a short film screening, and there will be video projections and a mobile pop-up exhibit on stage.

On October 25th, acclaimed master carver Jewell Praying Wolf James and Doug James of the House of Tears Carvers will take part in a totem pole blessing ceremony led by Faith Spotted Eagle (Yankton Sioux), marking the openings of the 2017 ICOM NATHIST Conference: The Anthropocene Natural History Museums in the Age of Humanity as well as the opening of the exhibition. The blessing will take place at 8:30 a.m. in the museum’s Sculpture Courtyard. Photographers and reporters are welcomed to attend.

The exhibit (Totem Pole and artifacts) will remain at Carnegie Museum for about 3-5 months and then will resume its Journey over the next 3 years to museums throughout North America.

For more information on the Carnegie events, contact:
Kathleen Bodenlos
Carnegie Museum of Natural History
412.622.3361 (office)