Over 200 attendees met at the Port of Olympia Plaza on Wednesday, March 1, for an event hosted by Interfaith Works of Thurston County and Learning Right Relations.
Leaders from regional tribes across Washington gathered to support the House of Tears carvers and the Lummi Tribe, which are working to send a totem to “protect” Oak Flat, a land that is sacred to the San Carlos Apache Tribe in Arizona.
Port of Olympia Commissioner and Nisqually Indian Tribe Elder Bob Iyall welcomed visitors to the city and thanked them for choosing Olympia as a stopping point on the totem prayer journey.
“We are all happy to be a part of this,” Iyall said. “We’re sending our very best to all of you and to the totem and the journey you will be taking.”
The 65,000-mile trip will bring a totem through reservations and cities across the United States en route to Oak Flat and the Apache Stronghold.
“The event is happening, yet the Lummi are not able to financially support the journey with the totem at this time,” Interfaith Works stated in a Facebook post. “What this means is that today’s event is very meaningful for our presence and support, both spiritual and, as one is able, financial.”
As was first reported by The Washington Post, Oak Flat and land that is sacred to tribes like the Hopi, Zuni, Yavapai and O’odham is at risk of being destroyed during mining operations on one of the largest untapped copper deposits in North America. Interfaith Works’ Facebook post states the Lummi and other regional tribes have a stake in the protection of lands and waters, which was the motivation behind the totem journey.
“The totem pole is the Trojan horse, it’s the awareness,” said Sul Ka Dub, who goes by Freddie Lane, an organizer, road manager and fundraiser for the prayer journey. “We’re road warriors.”
The House of Tears carvers and the James brothers have done the work in the spirit of healing, honor, hospitality, respect and protection for over 20 years.
According to a newsletter from the Lhaq’temish Foundation, Lummi Elder Tom Sampson said, “The totem pole is not what is sacred, it’s the gathering of the people around the pole — that is what is sacred.”
After attendees prayed and circled around a ritual object, a staff featuring the head of an eagle, many participants placed money in a drum near the waterfront for the cause.
“I believe this is spiritual work and that we’re spiritual beings having a human experience,” Lane said. “It’s not a job any ordinary person can do. It’s a calling, it’s a hustle and you have to believe in it.”
On March 9, tribes in Washington will honor the life of Billy Frank Jr., a Native American environmental leader who fought for fishing treaty rights in Washington. Frank’s legacy was one of the reasons Wednesday’s gathering was held in Olympia. His birthday will be one of the 12 days a year when Discover Passes are not required to park on Department of Natural Resources and other state land.
“Uncle Billy, he’s the hero of our time,” Lane said. “He’s our icon and even though he is gone, his words still resonate in all the little bits of work he did.”
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