Creation and dedication for the children
WASHINGTON - Lummi Nation master carver and tribal council member Jewell
"Praying Wolf" James (tse-Sealth) can tell you the exact number of children
who lost a parent in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks: 3,257.
He can tell you about the 12-year-old Navajo girl who sang a beautiful
prayer when the Freedom, Liberty and Sovereignty Totem Poles stopped in
Window Rock, Ariz. on their journey to the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. "She
sang about being at the top of a mountain and praying with her corn pollen
for the safe return of the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan," James said.
He can tell you about the 10 Irish children, Protestant and Catholic, who
together peeled the bark from the tree that would become the Sovereignty
He can tell you about the youngest contributor to the project, a
two-and-a-half-year-old who "took a paintbrush and painted the spots that
weren't supposed to be painted," work that the elders would quietly remove
For James, the creation and dedication of the Healing Pole, the Honoring
Pole, and now the Liberty, Freedom and Sovereignty Poles are very much
about the children.
"The House of Tears carvers give the poles to the children who lost parents
on 9/11 so they will know they are not alone," James said.
The Healing Pole, carved in July 2002 and dedicated to the memory of those
killed at the World Trade Center, was placed in Arrow Park in the Sterling
Forest north of Manhattan on Sept. 7, 2002. The Honoring Pole was placed in
September 2003 at the site of the crash of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa.
Now the final gift, a portal fashioned of two upright totem poles
representing liberty and freedom topped by a 34-foot-long lintel
representing sovereignty, was dedicated at the Pentagon on a brilliant
autumn afternoon as every few minutes a commercial airplane on takeoff from
Reagan International Airport lifted into the clear blue sky. One hundred
and eighty-four people died when another commercial airplane, Flight 77,
crashed into the Pentagon.
The two 13-foot-high upright poles represent bears. They are carved from
the same tree, an 800-year-old Western Red Cedar donated by the Forest
The bear on the left is female, grandmother, mother. She displays the
feminine symbols of the moon and the turtle, the latter, James explained,
incorporated into the design to honor the beliefs of some of the Eastern
tribes. This is the Liberty Pole.
On the right is the Freedom Pole, a bear representing the male principle,
grandfather, father and Father Sun.
"The concept," James explained, "is that liberty and freedom are the
pillars of sovereignty, and the eagle represented on the Sovereignty Pole
is a national emblem. The female eagle on right has her mouth closed. She
is at peace; sovereignty is not always at war. But the eagle on the left
has bloody hands, meaning that sovereignty will consume its young in times
In the center of the Sovereignty Pole is carved the "Indian in the moon,
praying for all her children.
"In the craters of the full moon you can see the outline of a Native
American sitting at prayer," said James. "The full moon is the sacred
circle of life. That's what we pray for. The dualities symbolized in the
work - male and female, sun and moon, crescent moon and full moon - refer
to the sacred union through which we create the beginning of life and the
spirituality of movement. All parts of the spiritual and creation are in
The intricate carvings also have numerical significance. The uprights are
each 13 feet high, and the eagles have 13 tail feathers, representing the
original 13 colonies. The eagles also have two sets of seven feathers,
recalling the number 77, the flight number of the plane that crashed into
the Pentagon. The Sovereignty Pole is 34 feet long: three plus four equal
seven, a sacred number in much Native American cosmology. The structure is
painted in the four sacred colors - red, black, yellow and white - colors
that were sacred to the Lummi even before the four colors of the human
races had been identified.
While about 80 people participated in the 4,000 human hours of work done to
complete the project, the three main carvers were James, Charles Miller,
Lummi, and Fred Simpson, from the Tsimshian Klingit Tribe, and at 72 the
oldest contributor. Carving the poles took about 2,600 hours and painting
The totem poles started their journey from Washington state on Sept. 1 and
stopped at reservations in Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico,
Oklahoma, Tennessee and Pennsylvania before arriving in Washington, D.C. on
Sept. 18. When they were loaded the totem poles weighed 20,000 pounds, but
they lost some weight as the wood dried out going through the hottest part
of the country.
"In the towers, 3,047 people representing 83 nations died. Three hundred
men and women in uniform gave their lives to save someone else's loved
ones. We tried to reflect on that," said James. "It was enormous, so we
stopped and asked other Indian nations to come and pray with us."
James said that the travel went really well, despite his initial concerns
about how to display the totem poles on the journey. "The Swift
Transportation Company in Phoenix has a Lummi working for them. They sent
him with a truck and took the totem poles and stopped at all the sacred
sites. It was a great contribution to fulfilling the project," said James.
The dedication ceremony began promptly at 2 p.m. under the close
observation of armed Pentagon police.
Raymond DuBois, director of Administration and Management in the Department
of Defense, welcomed the guests and explained that the totem poles would
stay at the Pentagon until Sept. 23, then be moved to the historic
Congressional cemetery and finally in 2005 to the Washington, D.C.
September 11 Memorial Grove on Kingman Island. He acknowledged that
American Indians have fought in every war from the Revolution to Iraq. "At
the end of 20th century, there were 190,000 Native American veterans," he
James spoke about the vision of the poles, saying that his involvement with
the 9/11 tragedy began on that day when Senator Daniel Inouye came to a
group who had gathered in Washington for a demonstration on Native American
sovereignty and "asked us not to add to the chaos, but perhaps to help with
"We must remember," James said, "that sovereignty is not free. Liberty is
not free. Freedom is not free. The price is paid by someone else."
He also told the gathering of upwards of 500 people to remember that the
totem poles are not sacred. "They are symbols that we have the power to
heal each other, to love each other. That is the message. We pray that our
children will come home. Let's continue to pray for the 3,257 children who
lost a parent that day."
The gift of the three totem poles is indeed an extraordinary act of
James said, "The structure is like a portal. There is no death, there is
just a thin veil, a portal. We want to let them know that they are not
forgotten, and to remind people it's only a symbol of the love that we're
sending to let all those children know they are not alone and let the
families know that we are praying for them."
For more information about the Lummi Healing Poles, visit