A bald eagle circled above the totem pole. The wind blew in powerful gusts, but the rain held off for the dedication of a Lummi Nation totem pole commissioned by Phillips 66, which was recently installed at the refinery in Ferndale.

The new totem depicts the story of energy. Photo credit: Bob Wiemers

The ceremony began with Jewell James beating his drum, turning to the four corners of the earth in turn, and reciting “Remember we love you, we let you go to the other side.” James and his family each wore a swipe of red paint at their eye, which symbolizes the relationship to the earth, and comes from “a 10,400-year-old woman that was painted red, in eastern Washington.” James said that the red paint was also found on a man buried in southern Montana, which was carbon dated to nearly 50,000 years ago.

Lummi Master Carver Jewell James and the House of Tears Carvers sat down with Phillips 66 a year ago to begin thinking about how best to honor Phillip 66’s partnership with the land. As James said, “We are at an energy refinery, so we sat down to consider our relationship to the world around us. This totem pole is a token of appreciation from the land, an acknowledgement that is meaningful, valuable, right and just. The sun and moon deliver energy and movement, geothermal energy reaches down into the earth, and we wanted to incorporate these symbols into our carving.”

Henry Cagey, Brandi Civico and Jewell James celebrate the installation of the story pole at Phillips 66. Photo credit: Carol Lo

The new totem pole is carved from James’ preferred Western Red Cedar, which resists decay and naturally repels insects. The log came from Oregon’s Siltez tribe to replace cedar logs he used to carve and donate two totem figures to mark the Chemewa Indian Boarding School Cemetery in Oregon. James always performs a prayer ceremony to bless the forest for allowing him to remove a tree.

A single pole can take hundreds of hours, accumulatively, for James and his assistants to carve and paint, using both traditional and modern tools and methods. A special feature of this pole is the use of copper as emphasis. Lummi members from ages 6 to 68 years old helped complete the totem.

The Phillips 66 totem pole is intended to tell the story of human dependence upon the superior forces of the Earth and Sky. The top of the pole features Thunderbird, an image of the sky power. The second sector below Thunderbird is Mother Bear with Human Child, shown to depict mankind’s dependence upon the power of the earth and local native dependence upon the health of the earth.

Jewell James and the finished totem. Photo credit: Bob Wiemers

The third image is the seal and salmon, which depend upon the health and protective environment of the oceanic waters. The fourth sector shows Three Humans, Black, White and Yellow. Together with the image held by Mother Bear, they make up the four races tied to the earth. “While this is a totem pole, it is a story pole,” said James. “It is intended to tell the Story of Energy that we, as human beings, depend upon and harvest.”

James began carving while he was in his teens. He was mentored by the elder carvers, including his brother Dale, and continues the tradition with his own children so they will know their people’s history and ways.

The House of Tears Carvers have poles placed all over the United States and Canada, including the National Library of Medicine healing totem; healing totems carved to honor the victims of 9/11 placed in New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon; and the recent Tokitae pole honoring the Orca and sent to Miami.

James sings while his son and nephew place cedar boughs around the totem. Photo credit: Bob Wiemers

Brandi Civico, community relations coordinator for Phillips 66, spearheaded the search for a carver for the new totem pole, a tradition that began in 1955 with a carving by Lummi tribe member Joseph Raymond Hillaire. “The totem is important to the history of the refinery, the employees and its visitors,” said Civico. “We wanted a connection with the Lummi tribe, who created our first totem pole, and to honor the custom, tradition and partnership between us.”

Tim Johnson, public and government affairs director at Phillips 66, is as delighted as Civico with the result. “We are all so pleased to be about to team up with the House of Tears Carvers to make this totem pole a reality.”

It was a blustery day for the ceremony. Photo credit: Bob Wiemers

Lummi Indian Business Councilman Henry Cagey acknowledged the good working relationship with the company, as well.  “We are so thankful for their support for our Boys and Girls Club and that they appreciate our presence and connection to this land,” he said.

Lummi Nation member and Executive Director for the nonprofit Lhaq’temish Foundation, Candice Wilson, agreed. “It’s an honor to be here for this dedication, and it’s important that Phillips 66 has commissioned this totem in relationship with the Lummi people,” she said. “We are all in this together.”

The ceremony ended as it began, with a song from James: “The oneness we have with life; one people, spirit, life and earth.” He thanked the cedar tree he had carved as his son and nephew placed cedar boughs around the base of the totem.


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