Carvers from the Lummi Tribe on Tuesday made a special stop at Return to Freedom’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary en route to Washington, D.C., with a totem pole honoring Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and carrying the concerns of Native people.
Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo, is the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary.
Master carver Jewell Praying Wolf James, a descendent of Chief Seattle, said that the totem, which will be housed at the Smithsonian Institute, was a reminder to the Biden administration of the importance of Native voters in swing states and of the issues they care about, including: self-determination and -government, the protection of sacred sites and places, the right to manage water under treaty, and the murders and disappearances of indigenous women.
Jewell James said the pole “tells the story of oppression of the female power.”
“At one time, we all practiced Mother Earth Spirituality,” he said. “The story pole calls for all of us to reunite with our basic love for the earth, and all life that is dependent upon it.”
Almost 25 feet tall and weighing 4,990 pounds, the red cedar pole was carved between February and April by the 14-member House of Tears Carvers. The stop at RTF’s headquarters sanctuary in Lompoc was the 65thon what has already been a 4,700-mile journey, which began with dozens of stops in Washington state.
The stop at RTF included talks, prayers and songs from Freddie Lane (Lummi), carvers Doug James and his wife, Siamel’wit, Alan Salazar (Tataviam Band of Mission Indians), Pete Zavalia (Comanche) and Matthew Zepeta (Apache).
Now is the time for people together “as one heart and one mind,” Doug James said. He recalled the story of Tahlequah, the orca that in 2018 carried its dead baby for 17 days:
“She’s saying, ‘Look, humans, we’re dying here,’” Doug James said. “We’ve got to stand up for those that don’t have a voice. This generation that we’re in right now — you’re the generation that has to do something to shift what’s happening to our Mother Earth. We can’t do it alone. It’s going to take every one of us from all walks of life to come together.”
RTF President Neda DeMayo said that the Bureau of Land Management was continuing with “business as usual,” rounding up wild horses and burros on public lands while failing to use additional funding allocated by Congress to implement fertility control.
DeMayo said Haaland can “help do what’s right for America’s wild horses and burros.”
“We want to send a clear message to the Secretary of the Interior: ‘Please help us hold BLM’s feet to the fire to use the increase in funding toward the necessary and staff training for its fertility control program using existing safe, proven