Skip to main content

Lummi Nation brings healing to 9/11 crash sites

SHANKSVILLE, Pa. - Traveling 4,380 miles in 13 days with 13 people through 13 states, a 13-foot high totem pole arrived this fall with healing and remembrance of the 9/11 Flight 93 crash site in Somerset County.

The pole's theme, "It is not forgotten," took root when Lummi tribal leaders witnessed the terrorist attacks in Washington D.C.

"We saw the chaos and shock," said Jewell James, master carver of the nation's House of Tear's Carvers. "When we came home, we listened to counseling about how to get over the grief the children and families of lost ones were suffering. We wanted a way to say, 'we understand your grief. You are not alone.'"

The pole is the second the Lummi Nation has gifted in condolence. In September 2002, they brought a healing pole to New York's World Trade Center. Along that journey, the gift-givers met a volunteer fireman who was among the first responders to the crash that occurred less than two miles away in Stony Creek Township. He asked them not to forget Shanksville.

"We remembered and on the way, we turned south to Shanksville and met with the mayor," said James.

Mayor Ernest Stull met with the group at the crash site where traditional music was played for hours. Early this summer the Lummi invited Stull to Washington state and flew him out for the blessing and beginning of the journey.

"I was dumbfounded," said Stull. "The pole is beautiful. It has a lot of meaning to it. So many different things are portrayed."

The pole was cut 13-feet 8-inches tall from a 300-year-old western red cedar tree donated by the U.S. Forest Service. The number 13 signifies the 13 original colonies and the eight signifies the delegates of the 1787 First Continental Congress established in Pennsylvania in 1787.

Its yellow, black, red and white paint represents the four colors of the world's people. A bear stretches its arms protectively around two people who both have purple hearts for the blood spilled in all wars and on 9/11.

James said adult and youth carvers worked many hours during the two months it took to carve the pole. Along the journey east, tribal leaders from many nations came out to add their prayers to be taken to Pennsylvania.

"Our people were forgetting the people who had sacrificed to secure our liberties," James said. "Our veterans were being left behind. Not only left, but forgotten. It was they who sacrificed so we wouldn't have another tragedy."

The pole was transported by a trailer provided by the tribe. With no equipment to lift its 128-ton weight, the tribe used traditional methods.

"It's all about leverage," said James. "We had no equipment to lift it, so we levered it with blocks and rollers to get it onto the trailer."

Kurt Russo, who also worked on the carving, said the journey was full of small things adding up to the heart of the matter.

Stull, for instance, is head of local American Legion Post 911, the only post numbered 911 in the country.

While bringing the bear to St. Louis, the name of the man who hit it in a fender bender was Bear.

In Colorado they held ceremony in memory of the Sand Creek Massacre. While there, they learned that the house of a Flight 93 pilot was just a quarter mile away.

In Shanksville, heavy equipment was on hand to erect the pole on Sept. 8 when it arrived. The dedication ceremony was attended by state representatives, the local community and others who were brought together by the casualties.

The Lummi Nation is planning to close the circle in 2004 with a Liberty and Freedom Pole placed in the vicinity of the Pentagon in Washington, if permission is secured. The journey of this pole will take it down through San Diego and cut across the lower states from Oklahoma to Washington, D.C. in what Russo said is the reverse of The Trail of Tears. On this trip, all tribes are invited to participate. Veterans groups have also been signing on for what is becoming a caravan along the journey.

Sacred ground is community ground, said Russo.

"People have been flocking in by the busload all summer to see this pole," said Borough Council President Robert Mowery.

The tour bus has been including the totem pole on its drive to the area where the plane crashed. The 757 took off at 8:01 a.m. from Newark, N.J. bound for San Francisco but turned back into Pennsylvania. Its 38 passengers and seven crew members soared over woodlands, pastures and cornfields before smashing into a section of an old coal strip mine at 10:06 a.m.

The pole was placed near the Shanksville-Stonycreek School where hundreds of K-12 students along with school employees looked from windows and witnessed the plane coming down. The remembrance pole stands among trees nearby a war memorial in the grove where children play sports and the community gathers.

Of the Lummi's gift to the town, Stull said, "The day brought us together. We're very good friends now. I'm very glad of it. They're a beautiful people."