Lummi Totem pole visits the San Juans

by Stephanie Buffum

San Juan Islands Stop-over Coordinator

Many thanks to more than 300 islanders who attended a House of Tears Carvers totem pole blessing on San Juan Island/Whelalq, Shaw Island/Sqemenen, Orcas Island/Swalex and Lopez Island/Swaletch on May 10-11.

Lummi Nation members from the House of Tears Carvers Se Sealth (Jewell Praying Wolf James), Sit ki kadem (Douglas James) Siam’el wit, Sul ka dub (Freddie Lane), Heather Misanes, Jewell Ridley-James, Gabriela and Kayden Norgueria united our community in a special way and called on each of us to step forward to protect what is sacred.

The May 10 stopover on San Juan Island/Whelalq included visits to sacred sites and ceremonies at British Camp/ Pe’pi’ow’elh where tribal elder Rosie Cayou James and Mitchell Bay Band descendent Lisa Nash Lawrence welcomed the Carvers with family members.

On May 11, the totem pole traveled from Shaw Island/Sqemenen to Orcas Island/Swalex to the top of Mt. Constitution. Over 100 people participated in a ceremony at Madrona Point/Ts’el xwi sen, a Lhaq’temish Village. Over 100 people attended the ceremony at Odlin County Park on Lopez Island/Swaletch. A group of Shaw residents traveled with the totem pole on the inter-island ferry between islands.

During each event, master carver Se Sealth, Jewell James, described the inspiration, dreams and meaning of each carved figure and painting on the totem pole: a praying native person in the moon, missing and murdered native women, orca, Chinook salmon, sea wolf, bear, eagle, grandmother, tears, and a caged child — a reference to children presently incarcerated at the U.S.-Mexico border.

In addition to the Islands, the totem pole, carved by a single 400-year-old cedar tree, will make stops throughout the Northwest. It will begin its cross-country US tour to sacred sites next month, stopping at Nez Perce traditional lands; Bears Ears National Monument in Utah; the Grand Canyon; Chaco Canyon, New Mexico; the Black Hills of South Dakota; and the Missouri River, at the crossing of the Dakota Access Pipeline, where thousands protested evoking an urgent call to protect sacred lands, waters, women and children of Indigenous people.

This fall, the pole will be featured at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. A special exhibition was developed by The Natural History Museum and House of Tears Carvers at the Lummi Nation.

Support the journey with a donation to the Lhaq’temish Foundation (c/o House of Tears Carvers) 2665 Kwina Road, Bellingham WA 98226. Follow the Journey at

A special thank you to volunteers Marty Ahart, David Turnoy, Orcas Oddfellows, Ron Metcalf, Kai Sanburn, Robin Reid, Judy Meyer, and Nick Teague.

Edee Kulper photo
The totem on Orcas.

Edee Kulper photo The totem on Orcas.

Edee Kulper photo
Islanders paying tribute to the totem.

Edee Kulper photo Islanders paying tribute to the totem.