A 22-foot long totem pole stopped in Sandpoint recently on its 5,ooo mile journey across the Northwest. Carved by members of the Lummi Nation, the colorful pole is currently being hauled along the rail route of coal and oil exports. The purpose? To raise awareness of the risks to communities along these rail lines from increased fossil fuel export by rail, as well as of global warming in general.
It was a beautiful sunny Sunday morning when the totem pole pulled into Sandpoint’s City Beach on the back of a flatbed truck. ICL co-hosted the event that featured speeches from representatives from the City of Sandpoint, the faith community and environmental groups before a crowd of about 150 people. Head carver Jewel James from the House of Tears Carvers and other elders from the Lummi Nation took turns explaining the significance of the totem pole carvings and the journey itself. Their talks included moving stories, traditional tribal songs and drumming.
Some spectators were moved to tears by the elders’ speeches and the event concluded with many people touching or even hugging the totem pole before it was packed up and the entourage began their journey to their next destination, Missoula, Montana.
The journey follows the May 9 decision of the U.S. Corps of Engineers to deny the permit for the proposed giant Gateway Pacific coal terminal at Cherry Point, Washington, based in part on its potential impacts on the treaty fishing rights of the Lummi Nation. While this certainly appears to be a victory, the decision is being appealed and will likely head into the courts.
Meanwhile, a dramatic increase in fossil fuels from the Bakken oil fields could mean big increases in oil trains through the Northwest and tanker traffic off the West Coast. A huge coal export terminal—the Millennium Bulk Terminal—is still in the works and awaiting permitting. It could handle up to 44 million tons of coal a year.
The Lummi tribe is committed to unifying the people of the northwest in opposition to fossil fuel extraction and exportation. They came up with the idea for a totem pole journey in 2013 and have orchestrated three other journeys since, one each year.
This totem pole journey will make stops in key communities along the rail line including the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota where the Sioux tribes are opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pole’s final resting spot is in Winnipeg, Manitoba at “The Place Where the Two Rivers Meet.” Winnepeg is the site of TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline—an alternative pipeline for the failed Keystone XL project and one vehemently opposed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other groups.
Follow the progress of the totem pole journey on the totem pole journey website.