LUMMI NATION, Wash. - A totem pole is being carved by Jewell James to honor the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93, which was hijacked by terrorists and crashed in Shanksville, Pa., on Sept. 11, 2001.
Thirty-nine passengers and crew members were killed in the crash.
In September 2002, one year after the attacks, Master Carver James and his fellow Lummi Nation House of Tears carvers trucked a healing pole from Lummi to the World Trade Center. The pole was carved to memorialize those killed in the attack on the twin towers and to help families and friends begin healing. The pole now stands in New York's Sterling Forest State Park.
"When most people think of Sept. 11, they forget about Shanksville," said Aaron Thomas, public affairs director of Lummi Nation. "We have never forgotten the heroes of Flight 93 or our heroes in Iraq."
Lummi Nation Chairman Darrell Hillaire added, "It seems as though the world might have forgotten those people on board that aircraft and the grief that their families had to endure. This totem pole is the highest honor that we can give as Coast Salish people to commemorate those fallen heroes."
In May, Shanksville Mayor Ernest Stull - who saw the healing pole as it was en route to New York City - asked Lummi Nation if a similar pole could be carved to honor the Flight 93 crash victims. James agreed to undertake the project. He acquired an old-growth cedar log from the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
The pole - called an honoring pole - will depict a bear holding a human, representing the courage of the passengers and crewmembers that battled terrorists for control of the plane. U.S. officials believe the terrorists had planned to crash Flight 93 into the White House.
The pole is 13 feet 8 inches; Pennsylvania was one of the 13 original colonies and it had eight Congressional representatives, among them Benjamin Franklin.
James and 12 others will caravan with the pole, traveling 3,900 miles in nine days. The journey begins at Semiahmah in Blaine, Wash., on Aug. 27 at noon. Shanksville's mayor is scheduled to attend the ceremony.
The honoring totem pole will stop in 10 cities, where local American Indian veterans and other veterans will host an honoring reception. On Sept. 6, at New River Gorge National River in West Virginia, the reception will include U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. Rahall authored a bill to strengthen the protection of sacred tribal burial sites.
"It is an honor to have Congressman Rahall a part of this historic tribute," Hillaire said.
Honoring the heroes of Flight 93 is important to the Lummi Nation. Tribal leaders see the flight crash site as a sacred place because people died there. Efforts are under way to preserve the site; the National Park Service has proposed establishing a national memorial there.
Likewise, the Lummi Nation is still reeling over the desecration of an ancestral burial site at Semiahmah, north of the reservation. Human remains were removed from the site in 1999 during excavation for a wastewater treatment plant; Lummi archeologists are still recovering remains and returning them to the site for reburial.
In the wake of the site desecration, Lummi committed itself to ensuring such desecration doesn't happen again. The Lummi community has been divided over several issues regarding recovery of human remains. But the healing and honoring poles have helped the community reunite.
"We have the strength to heal. We can share that and help others heal too," James said.
Hillaire said of the healing pole journey in 2002: "That whole journey was very symbolic in a lot of ways. We learned a lot about who we are as a people and were proud to be a part of history."
The pole also honors the U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines serving in Iraq. Three Lummis are veterans of the latest Iraq War: Marines Nathan Cultee Jr. and William Dennis; and sailor Phillip John, who's stationed aboard the USS Harry S. Truman. Thirteen Lummis are wearing military uniforms.
"We are requesting the Native American war veterans and other veterans to participate (in the honoring pole journey) to remind us all about those who served in the conflicts of the past and those who are still in Iraq," Hillaire said.
'We saw it as a sign'
James' journey to Shanksville began, perhaps, in September 2002 while he was trucking the healing pole to New York City.
He and his entourage had stopped for fuel and lunch in Eureka, Pa. They had thought of going to Shanksville but didn't know how to get there. "A volunteer firefighter came up to me and asked, 'Is that the healing pole,' " James recalled. "I said it was and asked him how he'd heard of it. He said it had been all over TV. He was from Shanksville."
The firefighter offered to escort the group to his hometown, about three hours away. "We saw it as a sign," James said.
When the healing pole arrived in Shanksville, 1,200 people were assembled for a ceremony on the field where the plane had crashed. Mayor Stull spoke in front of the pole.
For James, the process of carving a pole is therapeutic. He began to carve so he could teach his son and daughter; both were killed in separate accidents by drugged or drunken drivers.
When he carves, "I think about them. It helps me heal."
Today, James is Lummi's master carver, a responsibility he assumed when his older brother died. He is also a Lummi tribal council member and lobbied Congress to recognize the Iroquois and Choctaw Confederacies of Nations as models for the U.S. Constitution. He has bachelor's and master's degrees in Political Science from the University of Washington.
As a carver, he uses his art to promote a "cultural rejuvenation" among his people. He and his family have donated 98 works to the Lummi Reservation, among them a 15-foot bear in front of the elders' building.
James will continue carving poles to promote healing and to instill pride of heritage to the young of Lummi Nation. His latest work will help memorialize those who gave their lives for our nation on Sept. 11, 2001.
Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.