How a totem pole unites Indigenous resistance struggles across the continent.
6 min readSep 8, 2016

On August 23rd, a 22-foot totem pole began a 5,000 mile journey from the Pacific Coast of north west Washington State. This marked the fourth year of the Lummi Nation’s annual “totem pole journey” — a mission to “strengthen and expand” alliances between Indigenous peoples active in the resistance against the fossil fuel industry.

The Journey Begins

Earlier this year, the Lummi Nation celebrated a huge victory when it successfully blocked the largest coal port ever proposed in North America. Now, by sending this Totem Pole as a gift to the Treaty 1 people in Winnipeg, Canada, the nation is standing up in solidarity with the Indigenous peoples leading the fight against the Energy East tar sands pipeline, the largest proposed oil pipeline on the continent. Once raised in Winnipeg, the Totem Pole will “bear witness to the need for all peoples to work together in the name of our common humanity and our covenant with Mother Earth.”

Jewell James, Master Carver at the House of Tears Carvers Studio and the man who led the crafting of the Totem Pole, made it clear that it would stand as a symbol of resistance, and that it would unite this community with other Indigenous led fossil fuel fights across Turtle Island (North America).

“We need to let them know they cannot in the name of profits do this to the people, the water, the land, and to the future generations. We will never give up.”
- Jewell James, Master Carver

Photo posted on facebook by Jewell James.

The final masterpiece features a a “bald eagle with wings spread on top [and] a Medicine Wheel on its chest,” below that, a bear, wolf, and coyote are featured. Closer to the base, an Indigenous chief has been carved facing a medicine woman. According to Master Carver, Jewell James, “the medicine woman shows a connection to the Great Spirit; the eagle symbolizes wisdom and vision; the wolf is a scout or guide; and the bear provides strength.”

The Totem Pole Journey began with an intimate blessing ceremony in Bellingham, Washington. Soon afterward, it made a stop in Seattle before it set off Eastward.

Linda Soriano of the Lummi Nation performs a smudge ceremony at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle. (AP Photo/Manuel Valdes — retrieved from the Gazette)

Meanwhile, in Canada, community members in Winnipeg who are active in the struggle against the Energy East pipeline, prepared to receive the gift.

Watch Clayton Thomas-Muller from Winnipeg, Canada speak on the community’s plans for receiving this enormous gift.

Sacred Stone Camp — and other stops

En route, to Winnipeg, as an expression of solidarity, the Totem Pole journey ceremoniously stopped at numerous hot spots of Indigenous resistance to oil, coal and gas. This included a visit near Vancouver, Canada, to the T’Sleil Waututh Nation — another community fighting tar sands expansion, and a blessing stop in Missoula, Montana.

Most notably, the journey made a stop at the Sacred Stone Camp to show solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe which has been leading the iconic battle against the Dakota Access pipeline. Jewell James expressed his immense support for the courageous protests led by the people of Standing Rock, “they’re exercising their religious freedom, freedom of press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly — the right to speak out.” He noted that the pipeline itself was illegal — not the resistance to it. Watch the video below to hear Jewell James’ full statement on the Dakota Access protests.

WATCH: Members of the Lummi Nation speak on showing solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe as they act on their “sacred duty” to protect the land and the water from an illegal pipeline.

Winnipeg Prepares a Grand Reception

As the Totem Pole headed North towards Canada, and the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition, set up an elaborate art space to train local activists in Winnipeg on how to produce powerful movement art — growing the skill base in the local environmental justice movement. Together, hundreds of people in the community spent the entire weekend tirelessly creating astounding volumes of gorgeous movement art. Many of the designs for the banners and the flags were produced Isaac Murdoch.

The Journey Reaches Winnipeg

At last, the Totem Pole Journey reached its destination on Monday, September 5th. Thousands of people were there to receive the Totem Pole with the utmost respect and enthusiasm.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs along with friends in the community, hosted a large public event in Winnipeg that day to honor the arrival of the Totem Pole Journey. The celebration focused on the growth of the alliances among nations and the shared goal to work towards a clean energy future. Together, the communities celebrated the awareness and growing consciousness that the Totem Pole Journey is building across Turtle Island (North America). Since 2013, three totem poles have made their journeys from the Coastal Salish peoples over and through the mountains to carry a message of alliance and awakening.

Photography by Greg Gallinger
Photography by Greg Gallinger
Photography by Greg Gallinger

Together, Jewell James and the people from the Lummi Nation marched with the people of the Treaty 1 territories, boldly brandishing their messages for environmental justice, respect for Indigenous sovereignty, and the sacredness of water.

Under the guidance of Elders and ceremony, the fourth Totem Pole, made its way down Main street in Winnipeg.

Photography by Greg Gallinger
Photography by Greg Gallinger
This gorgeous picture of the march was drawn by Kelly Grub.

Along the way, the marchers stopped for a round dance at Canada’s most iconic intersection — Portage and Main.

Luckily, we were able to get this great aerial shot from a traffic camera!

The Totem Pole is Raised

The following day, on September 6th, the Totem Pole was raised on the sacred lands at the Turtle Lodge in Treaty One Territory. Drumming, dancing and ceremony accompanied this majestic moment.

At last, this gift from the Lummi Nation’s House of Tears Carvers Society stood as a symbol of Indigenous resistance in the path of the largest pipeline ever proposed in North America — the egregious Energy East project.

At the end of the day, we were reminded that, at its core, the fight against fossil fuels, whether its against expanding coal exports on the West Coast or building a toxic Tar Sands pipeline across Eastern Canada, is one for intergenerational justice.

Clayton Thomas-Muller stands with his sons, Felix and Jaxson, in front of the raised totem pole. Photo Credit: David Solnit; Art by Isaac Murdoch.

This post was written by Clayton Thomas-Muller and Atiya Jaffar

Want to join the fight against the toxic tar sands? Click here to participate the campaign to stop the Kinder Morgan Pipeline.



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