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Lummi Totem Pole Journey Aims To Spotlight Fighting Fossil Fuels In The Salish Sea

Bellamy Pailthorp
A smudge ceremony with sage and eagle feathers, performed by Linda Soriano of the Lummi Nation outside Seattle's St. Marks Cathedral in the 2016 Lummi Totem Pole Journey, which also took aim at fossil fuel developments.

A colorful totem pole has hit the road from Bellingham on a 5,000-mile journey, meant to shine a spotlight on threats to the health of the Salish Sea. TheLummi Totem Pole Journey will make stops in Seattle and Tacoma this weekend. 

Since 2002, the Lummi Nation and its House of Tears Carvers have used a traveling totem pole to unite communities around issues of concern. It started with the need for healing after the Sept. 11 attacks.

This year, the theme is stopping proposed fossil fuel developments in the Pacific Northwest that the tribe says pose a threat to them and other communities. 

“If these proposals that are coming on the table for the state of Washington, Oregon and B.C. were to be approved, it equals the amount of atmospheric pollution of five Keystone XL pipelines,” said Kurt Russo, with the Lummi Nation’s Sovereignty and Treaty Protection Office.

“It is a lot of potential damage that would be done and we want to draw a red line and say no, we will not be a transport for fossil fuels to Asia. That is not in our interest.”  

Credit Victoria Leistman / Sierra Club
Sierra Club
A prayer ceremony on the first stop of this year's totem pole journey, in Bellingham. Carved by Jewell James, it includes a 9-foot bear, signifying strength, as well as a salmon shield and 4 humans representing racial harmony. At the top is a moon containing an image of a native American in prayer.

The totem pole stops in Tacoma on Sunday for a rally against a liquefied natural gas facility opposed by the Puyallup Tribe. 

In Seattle on Saturday, the focus will be on concern about increased oil tanker traffic through the Salish Sea if expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline goes ahead.

Additional stops are in Vancouver, British Columbia, Friday; Vancouver, Washington, on Monday; and Portland, Oregon, on Tuesday. 

This year’s totem pole journeyends in Pittsburgh at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, where the totem pole will remain on display for the next 5 months. 

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to