If you were to imagine an experience that further unites us as Indigenous Peoples across the so-called United States, in a concerted effort to confront and combat cultural site desecration caused by the capalistic measures of extraction and industry, then you would find yourself on the Red Road to DC: A Totem Pole Journey For the Protection of Sacred Sites.
NDN Collective had the honor of hosting and offering blessings to the 25-foot totem pole as well as the groups responsible for leading this year’s journey as they arrived Wednesday, July 21 at Hesapa (the Black Hills of South Dakota) creating space for rest, healing and community. Organizers behind this project include: the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation , Se’Si’Le, Native Organizers Alliance, The Natural History Museum and Illuminative.
”We were blessed to host the House of Tears Carving Family and their supporters in the heart of the He Sapa,” said Krystal Two Bulls (Oglala Lakota and Northern Cheyenne), NDN Collective’s LANDBACK Campaign Director. “The amount of love, energy and commitment that every guest, speaker and host had on Wednesday was humbling.”
For nearly two decades, the House of Tears Carvers have led such totem journeys with their initial trek ensuing in 2001. Their focus has been to deliver totems to locations and communities in need of healing, whether tribal or non-tribal, unifying all peoples in the efforts of combating environmental desecration. Additionally, they seek to highlight the necessity of free, prior and informed consent as it relates to the federal government’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples, as well as capture how immensely important it is to protect sacred Indigenous sites across the land.
Birthed from a 400 year-old Western Red Cedar tree, the Totem was crafted with the intention and prayer of carvers of various ages, encompassing imagery influenced by Indigenous Peoples spanning all of Turtle Island, and capturing the scope of devastation and injustice occurring against the environment, lands, culture, and our relatives. At each sacred site stop, individuals are afforded the the opportunity to lay their hands on the Totem, extending a message and prayer to protect these sacred areas – further capturing the importance of leading with culture and spirit in advocating for change.
“The journey of this totem pole is a sacred journey, bringing together our ancestors and current warriors to bring awareness and fight for our lands and people,” said Nick Tilsen (Oglala Lakota), NDN Collective’s President and CEO. “When our movement comes from our cultural and spiritual power like this it will lead to lasting political and social change that impacts the lives of our people. This journey is a catalyst for the future we are fighting for.”
After embarking on the journey from the Lummi Nation in Washington State on July 14th, the Totem has travelled throughout the beautiful lands of the Pacific Northwest, to various stops in Utah, New Mexico, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota and Michigan, and is slated to arrive to its final destination on July 29th in Washington DC, where it will be presented to the Biden Administration as a means of illustrating the urgency in protecting and preserving sacred sites.
As quoted in The Washington Post, Judith LeBlanc, Director of the Native Organizers Alliance further captures this delivery of the totem to Washington, DC as a means of emphasizing the need for those in power to “recognize what their ancestral responsibilities are.” This responsibility also beckons the attention of Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland who will be present to receive the Totem and the urgent message it carries.
Photos By: Willi White, NDN Collective’s Head of Content & Production
Given the Federal Government’s long history of mismanaging sacred tribal lands, the message also carries the call to return Indigenous lands to Indigenous hands as a means of providing the original stewards of this land true reclamation and the opportunity to heal collectively.
“LANDBACK means the literal reclamation of land and everything stolen from us when we were forcefully removed from the land – language, ceremony, kinship, education, health, governance and housing,” said Two Bulls. “I am learning that LANDBACK is also being a good relative with the knowledge that we will win and we will win together. As the totem pole, the carvers and their caravan make the journey across the land, we send our prayers that Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland recognizes the power of the People and continues to work on our behalf.”
The collective spirit of Indigenous people in an effort to be in good relationship with each other and the planet has carried the Totem across these lands, and toward the U.S. capitol, serving as a declaration that our fight for reclamation is ongoing, and that we will continue to gather and move towards more just and equitable means for the longevity of our communities, cultures and the environment, for as long as we must.