Special Reports

Lummis carry gift of healing to families

A 13-foot totem pole carved in Washington state now stands as a symbol of healing in a forest north of Manhattan. After a 4,400 mile-journey from the Lummi Indian Reservation near Bellingham, the healing pole was dedicated with prayers and song Saturday beside a tranquil New York lake.

The Northwest tribal symbols on the pole represent the spirits of those who died or lost parents in the Sept. 11 attacks on New York's World Trade Center. The pole and its quiet surroundings are meant to offer survivors a place where they might begin their own journey toward healing.

Speaking to a crowd gathered in Sterling Forest near tiny Monroe, N.Y., Lummi Indians such as master carver Jewell James reminded friends and families of Sept. 11 victims that others share their suffering and are available to offer consolation.

"We're from the Northwest. We are longhouse people. Our elders taught us where there is a fire, you are home. When you're with people who are praying, you are home," James said.

"Don't be afraid to join that circle of life," said James, dressed in buckskin and wearing a headdress of eagle feathers. "One child has the strength for all of us to lift up those tears you're dropping. One elder sitting by you has the strength to get you through one more moment."

Relatives of Sept. 11 victims who gathered to observe the native ceremonies praised Lummi leaders and their gift.

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

The pole was carved by James and others from the base of a 140-year-old western red cedar. Its 13-foot length represents the United States' original colonies, while the black, red, white and yellow paints used in its decoration symbolize different races.

A bald eagle at the top of the pole, which Lummi leaders said symbolizes the Father Sky power, represents fathers who died Sept. 11. Below the eagle, a female bear folds her arms around a cub, representing mothers who died and children who were victimized by the terrorist attacks.

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

The pole's cross-country journey began Aug. 22 at the Lummi's sacred site of Semiahmah near Blaine. On its road trip to New York, the pole stopped at several Indian reservations and received blessings in tribal ceremonies.

Ahead of schedule, the Lummi last week detoured to Pennsylvania to visit the site near Shanksville where Flight 93 crashed.

The pole now stands beside a placid lake at Arrow Park, a former bungalow resort in the vast Sterling Forest and an hour north of Manhattan. Preservationists are working to add the park to a public trust.

Before the noon ceremony, families of Sept. 11 victims planted 3-foot white pine trees amid a grove of mature eastern hemlock a short distance from the pole site. The disease-resistant pines will eventually replace the hemlocks, which are being killed by a foreign aphid that has invaded the East Coast.

Many who attended Saturday's ceremony wore T-shirts bearing the names of New York fire stations. Malachy Corrigan, director of the counseling service unit for the Fire Department of New York, said families of firefighters who died Sept. 11 have been helped by the outpouring of public support over the past year.

"In these worst of times, we also had the best of times," Corrigan said. "Now, this is one more place where people can come and feel the healing."

In a voice loud enough that he needed no microphone, carver James told the survivors of the grief he felt years ago when his own daughter and son died.

James said he hoped something in Saturday's ceremony would help those who lost loved ones on Sept. 11 begin to look to the future.

"This may be the moment that will get you through the rest of your life," James said. "We don't know when a good word is going to pick us up and pack us the rest of the way."

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