Symbol of healing to travel cross-country

Published on Thu, Aug 29, 2002 by Meg Olson

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Symbol of healing to travel cross-country

By Meg Olson

Last week with songs, drumming, dancing and prayer, members of the Lummi Tribe prepared three totems for different yet similar missions. One will travel across the country as a symbol of healing from the wounds caused by the September 11 terrorist attack. The other two will be part of a quartet that will eventually watch over the Heritage Park to be built at the foot of Semiahmoo spit as part of the healing process for the disturbed burial site there.

“How will we heal?” Lummi master carver Jewell James asked the crowd of several hundred gathered at the end of Semiahmoo Spit on August 20. “We need to overcome fundamental differences of religion. The message is we have something in common, sacred ground. Reach out and love your neighbor.”

James, along with other tribal carvers from the House of Tears studio Charles Miller and Doug James and painter Ramona James spent 700 hours crafting the Healing Pole and 300 hours on the Guardian Totems.
The Healing Pole is topped by the figure of an eagle, representing the men and fathers killed September 11, above a bear, representing the women and mothers who perished, said Lummi communications director Aaron Thomas. There is also the figure of a bear cub, a symbol of the children left orphaned. A Lummi delegation is traveling across the country with the pole, visiting other tribes who will add their prayers along the way. Its destination is the Sterling Forest, north of Manhattan, sister forest to the Arlecho Creek Forest north of Seattle that the Lummi Nation is working to acquire and preserve.

“The heart of the story is not endangered species or imperiled cultures,” said Lummi tribal chairman Darrell Hillaire. “Rather the story is all about the spiritual investment of the Indian peoples in the belief that symbols and sacred sites help the process of healing. We believe that this totem pole will symbolize the united tribes’ efforts to challenge the United States and the international community to seek healing and find peace among nations. Significantly the pole symbolizes the call for harmony and healing in the relationships between the United States and America’s first people and the need to protect Native American sacred sites.”

Thomas said the tribe hoped to install the two guardian, or watcher, totems at the site of the Blaine sewage treatment plant in October. During an expansion of the plant an American Indian burial site was disturbed, which put an end to construction. The tribe is now working with the city and Birch Bay Water and Sewer District (BBWSD) to move the sewer plant off the site so it can become the Semiahmoo Memorial and Coast Salish Heritage Park. “The watchers are there to spiritually protect anyone in the sacred ground and keep bad spirits from coming in,” Thomas said.
Trillium Corporation, parent company to Resort Semiahmoo and the Semiahmoo developer, commissioned James to carve the two totems for $16,000. “Once this was our home, now it’s his home, and now we share it,” said Lummi elder Smitty Hillaire of Trillium chairman David Syre who attended the blessing of the poles.

The Senate version of the federal Veterans Administration, Department of Housing and Urban Development (VA-HUD) appropriations bill for 2003, still under review, includes $100,000 to complete initial plans and begin developing the memorial and heritage park. The catch is that, for the project to go ahead, the regional sewer will need to be built so Blaine’s old sewage treatment facility can be removed from the site. Despite lobbying efforts there is still no language in any federal appropriations bills to get the $30 million project off the ground.

At the August 12 Blaine city council meeting city manager Gary Tomsic said a meeting was planned with Congressman Rick Larsen to push for $250,000 in the House version of the VA-HUD bill to keep the sewer project moving forward. The city is now working on a comprehensive sewer plan and an operating agreement with BBWSD. ..

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