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House of Tears carvers stop at Swinomish Reservation

Red Road to DC

On Sept. 19, 2004, nearly 17 years ago, the House of Tears carvers from the Lummi Nation in Bellingham, WA delivered and dedicated “Freedom, Liberty & Sovereignty” to the Pentagon, one of three tragic targets for the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. The Lummi delegation brought three cedar totem poles nearly 5,000 miles on a cross-country road trip to Washington, D.C.

This ceremony made a lasting impression on me as I watched in tears both times, as the totem poles were blessed before they left for the East Coast and when I saw them arrive in D.C.

All along the way they made stops to collect “blessings” but also to offer much needed healing to all the communities they visited, displaying intricately and skillfully carved poles. They brought two 15’ upright beams and one 34’ crossbar making an archway to the Pentagon as a way to help heal a nation traumatized by this historical event. It was also a way to educate the public about our Native American culture here in the Northwest. It was not the first time they had taken this journey and it was not their last.

I was excited to again get to bear witness and be around a new healing totem pole created by the House of Tears Carvers last week when Lummi tribal member Freddie Lane shared with the Swinomish people at the start of another trek to the East Coast with their newest totem pole May 17. He scheduled a blessing at the Swinomish Hats pavilion with cultural director Aurelia Bailey.

It was the first of two visits that day, befroe traveling to the Tulalip Tribes in Marysville, WA.

Lummi tribal members Doug James, Siamelwit (James), Jewell James and Dirrion Montgomery joined Lane in displaying their 24’ cedar totem pole strapped onto a flatbed trailer. They were greeted warmly by the Swinomish Canoe family, tribal Senate, youth and the community. The totem pole was blessed with songs and prayers. Speakers included House of Tears carver Doug James. He said they were “gathering prayers and gathering strength” and spoke about “9-11” all those years ago, saying that “Jewell was lobbying in D.C. and wondered what we (the carvers) could do for a devastated country.”

Like past poles, this one was carved and painted with animals, eagles, salmon and people. This new one was also imbedded with red handprints and tears. This pole serves to raise awareness for climate change but also educate others about missing and murdered indigenous women and children.

Siamelwit (James), a kindergarten teacher, had a special message for the Swinomish youth, saying, “we had you in mind when we were working on this because we want to have a better world for you.” Jewell James explained the symbolism of the carved diving eagle on the pole saying it, “represents a style of leadership-past, present and future that understands the pain of babies to elders.”

These are story poles, but are also powerful reminders and messengers acting as conversation starters about environmental and social justice issues. They will initiate these discussions at stops across the country. The desire and intent of the House of Tears carvers is to help inspire changes, actions and even influence governmental policies.

This totem pole and its escort plan to arrive in D.C. around July 28. After the dedication, the Smithsonian will take possession.

Find out more about this year’s cross country tour and stop over schedule, by following the Red Road to D.C. at: and on Facebook: Contact their northwest tour manager Freddie Lane (Sul Ka dub) at: (360) 391-7560.


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