Healing Pole crosses country


Northwest Indians sent Healing Pole to New York Park

Sterling Forest State Park, New York (AP)

A healing pole blessed by Northwest tribes for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks began its journey August 20 from Washington state and arrived in New York state Sept. 7th.

"The totem pole is magnificent," said Theresa Mullan, whose firefighter son Michael died at the World Trade Center. "The spirit of this pole is so special for me. It was such a beautiful gesture for them to do this."

A bald eagle at the top of the pole represents fathers who died Sept. 11. Below, a female bear folds her arms around a cub, representing mothers who died and the children left behind.

The images face west, toward the Lummi reservation. In Washington state, two "watcher" poles face east to return the gaze.

Before the pole left Washington about 200 people gathered on the gravel shore of Semiahmoo Spit to bless the pole and two other watcher totems.

The ceremony was the first of many that took place for the carved 13-foot cedar healing pole. The totem has images of an eagle, a mother bear and a cub. The eagle represents power from the heavens, and the bear and her cub, painted in the colors of four races of people, represent reconciliation.

The smaller watcher totems, carved in a similar style, stayed in Whatcom County to watch over the burial ground at the neck of the Semiahmoo Spit, where city contractors dug up more than 40 graves three years ago while building a sewage treatment plant.

The poles' carvers, brothers Jewell and Doug James and Charles Miller, drove the healing pole to the forest north of New York City, where children orphaned by the attacks grieved together this summer.

The pole also traveled to reservations in Oregon, South Dakota and Connecticut and was blessed by over 15 other tribes.

At the August 20th ceremony, speakers from the Lummi Nation and other Northwest tribes led the group in prayer and performed old songs to bless the totems.

The healing pole itself carries prayers.

"When we put our prayers into this object, we want them to be strong prayers, healing prayers from each of us in our own way," said Smitty Hillaire, a former Lummi tribal council member, dressed with a blanket draped over his shoulder.

With faces painted in red stripes and fixed in concentration, three young men of the Tsarlip First Nation in British Columbia danced as others sang songs around the healing pole.

"The totem pole is a gift of life," said an old man. It's a gift of healing to the people in New York, he explained, the ones who will live with the sorrow of death.

"We thank you for the vision you gave to Jewell and the other carvers," said Smitty Hillaire in a closing prayer. "That we should reach out to those who hurt, that no distance of land is too great to reach across with our love."