January 20, 2019

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Taking totem on the road

Pole's long journey will end after Monday procession down Main Street

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Clayton Thomas Muller is a lead local organizer for the procession of the pole.</p>

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Clayton Thomas Muller is a lead local organizer for the procession of the pole.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/9/2016 (868 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A brightly painted totem pole nearly seven metres tall will be escorted down Main Street Monday after a journey of 8,050 kilometres on a flatbed truck from the Pacific Ocean over the Rockies and across the northern plains.

It weighs more than 1,350 kilograms, has been appraised at nearly US$67,000 and is accompanied by dozens of people, including the master carver who carved the totem pole as a family project. Crowdsourcing and cash donations have paid for the trip.

The totem pole is the fourth in a series of poles carved and gifted by the Lummi Nation in Washington to indigenous peoples leading the campaign against fossil fuel extraction and the expansion of pipelines, refineries and shipping terminals.

The others already stand on the Fraser River, at the northern Alberta oilsands and in Montana.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/9/2016 (868 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A brightly painted totem pole nearly seven metres tall will be escorted down Main Street Monday after a journey of 8,050 kilometres on a flatbed truck from the Pacific Ocean over the Rockies and across the northern plains.

It weighs more than 1,350 kilograms, has been appraised at nearly US$67,000 and is accompanied by dozens of people, including the master carver who carved the totem pole as a family project. Crowdsourcing and cash donations have paid for the trip.

The totem pole is the fourth in a series of poles carved and gifted by the Lummi Nation in Washington to indigenous peoples leading the campaign against fossil fuel extraction and the expansion of pipelines, refineries and shipping terminals.

The others already stand on the Fraser River, at the northern Alberta oilsands and in Montana.

The fourth is a gift to Treaty One chiefs in Manitoba, who are leading a campaign as the proposed Energy East pipeline gains momentum in Canada.

Manitoba indigenous chiefs and elders will receive the totem pole in Winnipeg Monday sometime after 3 p.m. at The Forks and again at about 5 p.m. at Thunderbird House.

'I believe the totem pole is a living entity, that it is a symbol of our relationship with a higher power' — Ojibway elder David Courchene Jr.

On Tuesday, the wooden sculpture will hit Highway 59 for its destination, 100 km northeast of Winnipeg at the Turtle Lodge, a ceremonial site located on Sagkeeng First Nation.

Elders selected the site near Winnipeg where indigenous ceremonies are still held — an important measure of respect for Coast Salish traditions, Ojibway elder David Courchene Jr. said by phone from his Sagkeeng home Saturday.

"Following the protocol of the totem pole, it had to be surrounded by the people. It can’t be left alone anywhere. And it had to be on our traditional land. That’s been our reservations, lands that still carry the spirit of our ancestors and how our people live and practice our identity," Courchene said.

"I believe the totem pole is a living entity, that it is a symbol of our relationship with a higher power."

The procession down Main Street is an effort to share that bond with non-aboriginal and indigenous people, Courchene said.

"We want to share with our non-native brothers and sisters why we love the land so much and, hopefully, they will come and join us to act in the spirit of stewardship of the land," he said.

The event is a procession and not a protest for a reason: "Our challenge is to keep things peaceful," Courchene said.

At the top of the totem is an eagle with a three-metre wingspan. There are flute players carved in its wings, a full moon symbol on its chest and a human face painted blue for the sky in its tail cluster. Among the other carvings, there’s a wolf, and a bear, four white buffalo and a pipe carrier getting ready to pray.

The carvings are rich in indigenous history.

For indigenous people, environmentalists and thousands of others, the sculpture has come to take on a value as a priceless symbol of protection for lands and waters crossed by pipelines in the 10-day overland road trip. Thousands have laid hands on it in prayer.

"That’s been the most beautiful thing," said Tsleil-Waututh sun dance chief Ruben George, grandson of chief Dan George, an iconic Canadian indigenous leader probably best known for his performance opposite Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man (1970), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.

NANCY BLECK PHOTO</p><p>The pole, which weighs more than 1,350 kilograms, will have travelled more than 8,000 kilometres on a flatbed truck.</p></p>

NANCY BLECK PHOTO

The pole, which weighs more than 1,350 kilograms, will have travelled more than 8,000 kilometres on a flatbed truck.

"We’ve been received really well in every single community. People are just happy to witness it and pray with it. When we pulled into Standing Rock (a North Dakota reservation and site of an ongoing oil pipeline protest), we had a procession of 25 cars and six tribal police cars escort us straight into the encampment. Almost all the elected (native American) leaders from Washington State were there, and when they saw the totem pole there were so many tears. And hope. You could see it in their eyes: ‘We’re going to win,’" George said.

The caravan is also taking heart from a series of victories against big oil in recent months.

In May, a northern British Columbia First Nation soundly rejected a $1-billion deal that would have paved the way for a liquefied natural gas terminal to be built on its territory, saying it was about more than money. In June, a court quashed Northern Gateway approvals, throwing the fate of the pipeline into the hands of the federal government.

"Seattle was a great turnout at St. Mark’s Cathedral. The churches are committed to working with us. The National Episcopal Church issued a statement out of New York to support Standing Rock... The United Church hand delivered a national apology to me saying they’re also going to support the tribes and their attempts to protect the earth," said Jewell James, the lead carver of the totem pole.

NANCY BLECK PHOTO</p><p>Jewell James was lead carver of the totem. </p>

NANCY BLECK PHOTO

Jewell James was lead carver of the totem.

James recounted one alliance between the Yankton Sioux in the U.S. and American ranchers, who came together over their shared opposition to the Keystone pipeline route. That might have been inconceivable a generation ago.

"They formed an alliance: the cowboy and Indian alliance," James said.

"The ranchers were saying they never ever thought they’d be working side by side with native Americans to protect the land their ancestors took from the Indians," James chuckled.

Social-media sites, including a Facebook page entitled Our Shared Responsibility: A Totem Pole Journey, have chronicled the journey from Seattle through tiny towns in Idaho and through Cannonball, the temporary encampment at Standing Rock on the banks of the Cannonball River drawing thousands of indigenous people to oppose the Dakota Access pipeline.

Customs officials on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border have waved the totem through pretty much without incident; a caravan of four vehicles, including a flatbed truck and a motor home, have criss-crossed the international border from Washington state to British Columbia, Montana, Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota.

"We were pulled over by the police a couple of times," said the lead carver.

"I think they just wanted to see the pole. They didn’t really want to pull us over (for a ticket). I just talked to them nice and told them what it was all about. It made them happy, and they wished us good luck," James said, laughing during a phone call during a layover with the Sioux at the Cheyenne River reserve in South Dakota.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Alexandra Paul

Alexandra Paul
Reporter

Alexandra is a veteran news reporter who has covered stories for the Winnipeg Free Press since 1987. She held the medical beat for nearly 17 years, and today specializes in coverage of Indigenous-related issues. She is among the most versatile journalists on the paper’s staff.

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