Pole on its way to D.C. in honor of secretary of interior
A totem pole bound for the nation’s capital made a stop in Montecito Wednesday night, where a group of Chumash individuals and faculty members from Pacifica Graduate Institute gathered for a special ceremony.
The totem pole, created by the House of Tears Carvers from the Lummi Indian Nation in Washington state, was carved in honor of Deb Haaland, who is the first Native American nominated to a U.S. cabinet secretary position. Ms. Haaland is currently serving as the secretary of interior for the Biden administration.
In a few weeks, the totem pole will be presented to President Biden at the White House after completing its “Red Road to DC” journey across the United States. It will then be placed in the Smithsonian’s Museum of the Native American.
For its 69th stop on its journey across the United States, a group gathered at Pacifica’s Ladera Lane Campus Wednesday to sing, pray and discuss the significance of the totem pole.
The 24-foot pole was carved from a 400-year-old cedar tree and features an array of symbolic images depicting significant challenges faced by Indigenous communities. These include the large population of missing and murdered Indigenous women, the children detained at the U.S.-Mexico border and the population loss of endangered salmon species along the Pacific Coast.
In the center of the pole, a carved eagle dives downward, representing the kind of strong leadership Indigenous people expect from the government, Jewell James, a master carver from the House of Tears Carvers, told the News-Press.
“We use the eagle to symbolize the type of leadership that we’re calling for,” he said. “Leadership that can see past, present and future all the needs, from newborn infant to the oldest person in the community, in regards to health, wellness, housing, food, shelter — all those needs.”
By making this journey to D.C., Mr. James said he is hoping to raise awareness about the preservation of sacred sites and waters, the missing indigenous women and the historical killings of Native American children in U.S.-sponsored boarding schools.
Mr. James said that although Ms. Haaland has a responsibility to serve all Americans, she has the chance to be a voice for underrepresented tribal people across the country.
“In the swing states that shifted the presidency, those states had a high turnout of Native American voters,” Jewell James, the head carver for the House of Tears Carvers, told the News-Press. “And that was significant and recognized by President Biden when he nominated the secretary of interior from Native America. And so he’s just showing that he knows why he’s in office.”
Eleanor Fishburn Nee Arellanes, the tribal chair of the Barbereno band of Chumash Indians, participated in Wednesday’s ceremony by offering prayer and thanks for the House of Tears Carvers on their long journey. She said seeing the nomination of Ms. Haaland to secretary of the interior makes her feel inspired.
“It gets me excited that we finally have some representation and some acknowledgement,” Ms. Fishburn Nee Arellanes told the News-Press. “You know, we are the first peoples here. Regardless of how they tried to slice it, we’re the first people here. And it’s like I said, it’s an honor for us to have another native woman represent and give an indigenous perspective instead of a Western perspective.”
To follow the journey of the totem pole, see facebook.com/totempolejourney.