Totem Pole Journeys

For twenty years, the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation has organized totem pole journeys to unite and empower communities on the frontlines of the environmental crisis.


The totem pole is one of North America’s oldest storytelling forms. Today it still reminds us of our place within the natural world, our responsibility to future generations and our connections to the land, and through the land, to each other. To spread the message of shared responsibility with Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, Lummi Nation elder and Master Carver Jewell James carries on the tradition of carving and raising totem poles.

The House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi community, led by Jewell James, has created a tradition of carving and delivering totem poles to areas struck by disaster, or otherwise in need of hope and healing.  The first such journey was in 2001 in the wake of the Sept 11th tragedy in New York.  

In 2013 the Lummi people began, what would turn out to be, a yearly totem pole journey, in response to the threat of a 50 million ton coal export terminal proposal on their traditional and sacred lands at Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point).  Each year, the totem pole has been brought to tribal and non-tribal communities throughout the country seeking to honor, unite and empower communities in the destructive path of fossil fuel extraction and environmental degradation.

These journeys have strengthened and expanded alliances between tribes, intertribal organizations, the faith-based community, environmentalists and community leaders by speaking to the moral conscience of culturally diverse communities. They united and raised the voices of diverse communities that have been steadfast in their resistance to further destruction of the Earth.  They called on us to take ownership for the sanctity of the air, land, water and wildlife and to exercise our shared responsibility over the restoration, protection and preservation of these gifts.

The totem pole is a traveling monument to a way of relating to life and land that honors generations past, present, and future–of humans, non-humans, the water and the land..

And indeed, the last several years has witnessed a shift in consciousness, both subtle and dynamic and the Totem Pole Journeys have been a part in making that shift happen. Despite the staggering number of obstacles placed before us, armed with courage, commitment, creativity and sheer audacity, individuals, communities and groups are continuing to move forward on that path forged by the Totem Pole Journeys.  

From fighting fossil fuel extraction and transport, to saving our precious orca and salmon of the Northwest, to the protection of sacred lands across the Americas the Lummi people through the power of the totem pole have created a Red Line connecting us to the land, to our communities and to each other.