American Indian/Alaskan Native Heritage Month — Together Towards Tomorrow
By Estella Perez, American Indian/Alaska Native Special Emphasis Program Manager
Native American/Alaskan Native Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the resilience and perseverance of our nation’s first people and to stand with them to protect sacred lands and waters. This year’s theme, Together Towards Tomorrow, embodies this sense of collaboration that is needed to ensure that our natural resources will remain for future generations. President Joe Biden states in his Memorandum on Tribal Consultation and Strengthening Nation-to-Nation Relationships:
“American Indian and Alaska Native Tribal nations are sovereign governments recognized under the Constitution of the United States, treaties, statutes, Executive Orders and court decisions. It is a priority of my Administration to make respect for Tribal sovereignty and self-governance, commitment to fulfilling federal trust and treaty responsibilities to Tribal nations, and regular, meaningful and robust consultation with Tribal nations cornerstones of Federal Indian policy. The United States has made solemn promises to Tribal nations for more than two centuries. Honoring those commitments is particularly vital now, as our Nation faces crises related to health, the economy, racial justice, and climate change — all of which disproportionately harm Native Americans. History demonstrates that we best serve Native American people when Tribal governments are empowered to lead their communities, and when federal officials speak with and listen to Tribal leaders in formulating federal policy that affects Tribal nations.”
To raise awareness about the threat from industrial developments to sacred lands and waters, the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation carved a 25-foot totem pole from a 400-year-old western red cedar tree. Jewell “Praying Wolf” James is a Lummi Nation citizen and the master carver. He says the words “Kwel Hoy” mean “enough is enough.” He said, “I hope the carved images and symbols serve as a reminder of the promises that were made to the first peoples of this land and waters.” Images and symbols on the totem pole include an Indian-in-the-moon, fire, diving eagle, full bodied Chinook salmon, a praying mother kneeling with a rattle near her kneeling daughter, flowing water, a bear, a wolf, falling rains and seven tears of trauma. The seven tears of trauma represent the seven generations throughout the world who have been traumatized by the treatment they received from non-Indians.
The totem pole traveled from Washington state to Washington, D.C. as a gift to the Biden-Harris administration. The two-week journey, referred to as the Red Road to D.C., began on July 14, 2021, and highlighted the most well-known sacred sites across the country.
The totem pole was welcomed by the Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, the nation’s first Native American Cabinet Secretary, during the final blessing ceremony at the National Mall on July 29, 2021. Arrangements are being made to find a permanent home for the totem pole in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Estella Perez and is a veterinarian and senior program auditor on the International Audit Staff in the Office of Investigation, Enforcement and Audit. She is located in Washington, D.C.
Photo courtesy of the House of Tears Carvers.