The House of Tears Carvers lead a prayer around a 25-foot, 5,000-pound totem pole during a welcome reception in Washington, D.C., on July 28, 2021. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Red Road to DC brings awareness to sacred sites and tribal rights
Thursday, July 29, 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C. — After 20,000 miles and 115 stops across the country, a group of Native carvers and elders have finally arrived in the nation’s capital, bringing much-needed attention to sacred sites and tribal rights along the way.
The House of Tears Carvers
began their journey on the Lummi Nation
in Washington state two weeks ago. The 25-foot, 5,000-pound totem pole they created has traveled to some major battlegrounds in the fight to protect tribal ways of life, including the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, where opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline has survived three U.S. presidential administrations
“This is not a Lummi fight or Standing Rock fight,” Fredrick “Phreddie” Lane, whose traditional name is Sul Ka Dub
, said of the journey across the United States. “This is our fight!”
An eagle on the 25-foot, 5,000-pound totem pole created by the House of Tears Carvers. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
The Red Road to DC
, as the journey is known, is now set to deliver one final message to the Joe Biden administration. As they present the totem pole to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland
, the only Native person in the Democratic president’s cabinet, they are calling on the federal government to live up to its trust and treaty responsibilities by ensuring Indian nations are at the table when decisions are made affecting their lands, their waters and their most important places.
“Native peoples are organizing to influence policy change,” said Judith LeBlanc, a citizen of the Caddo Nation who serves as director of the Native Organizers Alliance
, one of the groups behind the drive to D.C.
“Sacred places have been threatened for generations by development, extraction, and infrastructure projects,” added LeBlanc. “The federal government is failing in its responsibility to tribes to gain consent before projects are approved.”
A series of prayers, songs and blessings for the totem pole took place at Diamond Teague Park in Washington, D.C., on July 28, 2021. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
The Red Road delegation arrived in D.C. on Wednesday afternoon and made two stops. They first brought the totem pole to the National Museum of the American Indian
, where an exhibit entitled Kwel’ Hoy: We Draw the Line
is on display, highlighting the Lummi Nation’s long-running efforts to raise awareness about threats to the environment and public health.
From there, the group brought the totem pole to a park in the southeast side of the city for a welcoming reception hosted by members of the local Native community. Rudy Soto, a citizen of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes
who has worked for national tribal advocacy organizations as well as a key member of Congress, highlighted the location of the intimate, early evening gathering.
“It’s the confluence of the Anacostia and Potomac rivers and the Washington Channel,
Soto of the Western Leaders Network
said following a series of prayers, songs and blessings
for the pole at Diamond Teague Park
. “So there’s symbolic significance of this place.”
On Thursday afternoon, the Red Road to DC makes one final stop
as part of its two-week campaign for sacred sites and tribal rights. With the help of President Fawn Sharp
of the National Congress of American Indians
, the group will bring the totem pole to the National Mall.
With the U.S. Capitol as the backdrop
, the Native delegation will continue to press the need for free, prior and informed consent of tribal nations when it comes to U.S. law and policy.
“As monuments to colonialism are dismantled across the nation, the totem pole creates a new kind of monument, one that serves to build alliances around our collective obligation to care for our lands and waters for the generations to come,” said Rosalyn LaPier
, a citizen of the Blackfeet Nation
and board member at The Natural History Museum
, a collective that helped organize the nationwide tour.
“It also challenges us to address environmental racism and the growing climate crisis,” LaPier said.
The totem pole presentation to Secretary Haaland is scheduled to begin around 2pm Eastern. A livestream is expected to be available through redroadtodc.org
Following the event on the National Mall, the totem pole will remain on display outside of the National Museum of the American Indian through Saturday. The Kwel’ Hoy: We Draw the Line
exhibit runs through September 9.
The Red Road to DC departed the Lummi Nation on July 14. One of the first major stops took place the following day along the Snake River in Idaho
, where the Nez Perce Tribe
is calling for the removal of four dams in order to restore runs of salmon and protect treaty rights.
“Time is running out to protect our sacred salmon,” said Vice Chairman Shannon Wheeler. “This is a crisis that threatens our way of life, and it is a violation of our treaty rights. The federal government is failing to uphold the promises made to our ancestors when we ceded our lands.”
On July 17, the delegation visited the Bears Ears National Monument
in Utah, which has been the subject of high-profile political and legal disputes
Back in 2017, Republican former president Donald Trump dramatically reduced the boundaries of the site
during his first year in office, over the objections of tribes whose ancestral homes, sacred sites and burial grounds are located there.
“Bears Ears is a place of healing,” said Woody Lee, the executive director of Utah Diné Bikéyah
, which has supported protections for the site. “The canyons hold our songs, memories, and history. This place should be permanently protected and under the stewardship of the tribes who know the land better than anyone.”
The totem pole journeyed to Bears Ears in Utah on July 17, 2021. Photo courtesy Red Road to DC
On July 18, the totem pole arrived at Chaco Canyon
in neighboring New Mexico. Secretary Haaland, who is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna
, has referred to the area as her ancestral territory. As a member of Congress, she fought against energy development in the region
“The fight to protect Greater Chaco encompasses the fight against the climate crisis, the fight for inherent tribal sovereignty, the fight against resource extraction and exploitation, and the fight to address the adverse health impacts on the communities who live in the region,” said Julia Bernal, director of the Pueblo Action Alliance
. Haaland’s daughter is part of the organization
On July 21, a private ceremony took place in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The territory was promised to the Sioux Nation by treaty, one which the U.S. government violated by opening the area to natural resource exploitation.
The stop at Standing Rock
took place on July 24. The tribe has continued to press the Biden administration to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline, which crosses lands protected by the Sioux Nation treaty.
The Red Road delegation then made its way to the Midwest, where pipeline battles have drawn significant attention as well. The White Earth Nation
hosted the totem pole in Minnesota on July 24, followed by the Bay Mills Indian Community
in Michigan on July 25.
In Minnesota, tribes and their allies are fighting the replacement of the Line 3 pipeline
, citing threats to their wild rice, water and treaty rights. In Michigan, Line 5
has been operating in violation of law. Both pipelines are owned by Enbridge, whose headquarters are in Canada.
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