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Totem pole’s cross-country journey comes to Hollywood Reservation

A view from above of the 4,900-pound totem pole brought to the Hollywood Reservation on June 21, 2021. The pole will eventually be brought to Washington, D.C. (Photo Gordon “Ollie” Wareham)

HOLLYWOOD — It’s not every day a 24-foot-long, 4,900-pound object comes to the Hollywood Reservation.
Plenty of heads turned when a silver Ram Big Horn pickup truck with a Washington State license plate pulled up in front of the Howard Tiger Recreation Center with a massive totem pole on a flatbed trailer June 21.

The trip to the reservation marked the 82nd stop for the pole that is crisscrossing the United States with members of the Lummi Nation from Washington State. Its final destination is Washington, D.C. with a late July arrival. The pole has received national media attention, including recent coverage from the Washington Post and National Public Radio.

Hollywood Culture employees greeted the Lummi. Before they sat down for lunch together in the Culture cooking area next to the recreation center, the Lummi discussed their journey and the pole’s mission. Under the chickees in a quiet gathering that included Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola and Miss Florida Seminole Durante Blais-Billie, Lummi Douglas James explained how he and his brother Jewel James, both experienced carvers, began carving the pole in February from a 400-year-old Washington red cedar.

“Everything that we’ve been doing has been guided by the spirit. It has been guiding us across the country,” Douglas James said. “This pole will go to all the sacred sites we can hit in the United States.”

“It made me cry because of what it represents,” said Martha Tommie, who came from the Brighton Reservation with her 4-year-old grandson, Raiden Tommie, to view the pole and learn about and support its journey.

Bobby Frank, left, from Hollywood Culture, welcomes Douglas James, a carver from the Lummi Tribe, to the Hollywood Reservation on June 21, 2021. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

During their visit to Culture, the Lummi heard from Gordon “Ollie” Wareham, who told them about the box turtle versus the rabbit, a Seminole story that has been handed down through generations in his family.

“The story reflects how the Seminole people survived the Seminole Wars. We came together as many groups and we came together as one,” he said.

Similarly, the Lummi’s mission calls for a unified voice to bring attention to the Biden administration about issues affecting “mother earth.”

“It’s uniting all the voices together and send that wave to D.C. and (say) let’s do something to stop what’s happening to the earth,” Douglas James said.

The Lummi’s trek to South Florida included a visit to the Miami Seaquarium, which has been home for decades to a whale that the Lummi have fought to bring back to its native waters off the Pacific coast. The group was joined by Seminole Samuel Tommie, who said they paid regular admission to enter the Seaquarium in order to see the whale. Although protests have been organized in previous years, this visit to the Seaquarium was to see how the whale was doing.

“We’re hoping that she feels that we were there supporting her,” Tommie said.

The whale is known as Lolita the Killer Whale at the Seaquarium but is Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut to the Lummi.

Douglas James (Lummi) talks to Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola, left, at Hollywood Culture on June 21, 2021. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

“Their stories and their relationship with whales goes back hundreds of years, way before the United States was created. They feel that connection, they feel that responsibility. They’re doing everything from their hearts,” Tommie said.

When it came time to carve the tree, James said it was left up to the spirit to guide them. The result was a variety of depictions, each carrying special meaning as James explained:


• Indian and a moon. “He’s praying to the Creator to save Mother Earth for the children.”
• Diving eagle. “The eagle is symbolic of power throughout the country, right into the White House. The eagle flies the highest, sees the furthest, sees past, present and future, and he can carry the prayers to the highest element.”
• Two salmon, one on each side. “The eagles and the orca love the salmon. When we heard about the Snake River dams, you have to remove the dams in order for the salmon to get back up there and repopulate.” (Some tribes in the Pacific Northwest are calling for the removal of the dams to help replenish salmon.)
• Wolf, bear, whale. “We put a wolf head on the whale. They’re like wolves, they hunt in packs. The bear is for a legendary sea bear. In between the fins is a copper shield to recognize the Canadian relatives and the Alaskan relatives. Copper shield was a status item for them.”
• Grandmother. “One of her hands is painted red for the lost Indigenous women. She has a rattle in her other hand and a granddaughter that is learning traditional songs because her granddaughter is missing. On the granddaughter’s side there are seven tears, seven generations that went through all the hardships, including the Trail of Tears.”

The bottom is painted blue to reflect that all water flows to the ocean.

Although the pole is not finished, the last item carved on it was a dancing feather, which James said came to his brother in a dream.

The pole is scheduled to be brought to tribes in Alabama and Oklahoma, among others, before it returns briefly to Washington State. Its final trek to Washington, D.C. is scheduled to begin in mid-July.

Gordon “Ollie” Wareham provided some Seminole culture with music and storytelling to the Lummi visitors on June 21, 2021. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
Miss Florida Seminole Durante Blais-Billie, right, covers herself with a gift blanket from the Lummi visitors, including Siam’elwit. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
Seminoles and Lummi gather in front of the totem pole. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
Raiden Tommie, 4, receives a blanket from the Lummi at their totem pole June 21, 2021. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
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Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is senior editor. He has worked for The Seminole Tribune since 2014. He was previously an editor, photographer and reporter for newspapers in Southwest Florida and Connecticut. Contact Kevin at kevinjohnson@semtribe.com.
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