Healing Totem Journey

A chronicle of the creation of the NLM Healing Totem and Journey.

Native Voices traveling exhibition – North Dakota

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Margaret Hutto and Dylan Raintree, NLM, at Cankdeska Cikana Community College

Margaret Hutto and Dylan Raintree, NLM, at Cankdeska Cikana Community College


 By Judy Folkenberg, National Library of Medicine

BETHESDA, MD. – After a long hiatus, the Native Voices Blog is back. We will update you periodically about events surrounding the National Library of Medicine’s exhibit, Native Voices: Native People’s Concepts of Health and Illness. We will focus on Native Voices’ traveling exhibit, which greets current visitors in North Dakota, Alaska, Oklahoma, and Hawaii.

The permanent Native Voices exhibition is located at the National Library of Medicine (NLM) headquarters in Bethesda, MD. You can visit the permanent exhibit at the campus of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). (NLM is an easy walk from the NIH Gateway Center. The NIH Gateway Center is across from the exit of the ‘Medical Center’ stop on Red line of the Washington Metro rail system). You also can visit the permanent exhibition on the Internet at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/nativevoices/

The Native Voices traveling exhibition’s first stop in fall 2013 was Cankdeska Cikana Community College, an associate degree tribal college in Fort Totten, North Dakota. Cankdeska Cikana Community College serves the residents of the Spirit Lake Reservation. The college was named in honor of Paul Yankton, Sr., (or Cankdeska Cikana in Sioux which means “Little Hoop,”). Cankdeska Cikana was a Dakota Sioux who won two purple hearts. He died in France in 1944 while serving as a rifleman in the U.S. Army.

Similar to all five current Native Voices exhibitions, there are unique features at Spirit Lake. Eight Cankdeska Cikana Community College students or graduates, add their stories via a digital format: http://www.littlehoop.edu/content/index.php/component/content/article/9-cccc/320-student-digital-stories. The digital format enables you to hear each person in their own words and see an accompanying visual narrative.

Within the videos, the eight participants discuss their hopes and dreams as well as the obstacles and hardships each tackle daily. All eight discuss the importance of perseverance. Jada Longie, one of the digital story participant says, “I’m still here after many struggles and hardships.”

Myron Wanna’s message is short and sweet: “Don’t lose faith.” Wanna explains how he was drawn to a car accident only to discover his dad and sister were seriously injured. He dragged both out of the car, but the accident was fatal to his father. Following the tragedy, Wanna became depressed and suicidal. But after talking to a priest and getting a positive public response to some of his poetry, Wanna enrolled at Cankdeska Cikana Community College and sought an associate degree in business. He plans on getting a MBA so he can assist with the business management of the Spirit Lake reservation.

Some other participants note how nature and animals inspire them to endure personal setbacks and hardships. Allura LaRoque talks about her love of horses, which started at age two, and how she saved to buy her first horse, a beauty named “Cowboy.” Cowboy was LaRoque’s best friend and confident; she told Cowboy her deepest, darkest secrets. The horse also helped LaRoque cope with everyday stress. While Cowboy died from poisoning, the horse inspired LaRoque to care for people and nurtures her interest in becoming a cardiologist. And she now has another horse: “Jake,” because as she says, “I will always love horses.”

Moriah Thompson’s grandmother fostered her interest in plants and animals. Thompson remembers feeling sick one day and sitting on her grandma’s lap. She told Thompson to look at the northern lights, because “they came to visit you and make you feel better.” When her grandmother passed, Thompson struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts. However Thompson received counseling, maintained good grades, entered college, wrote poetry, and threw away her razor blade. In honor of her grandmother, she hopes to become a plant pathologist.

Carol Graywater finds health through art. Graywater dreamed of becoming an artist from childhood. But an arts career seemed elusive after struggles with drugs and alcohol, a history of teenage delinquency, and taking care of six children. After several attempts, Graywater re-enrolled at Cankdeska Cikana Community College and revisited her dream. Soon, Graywater quit her job and went back to school full time in art. “Art is an extension of who I am,” she says, as she now sells her art and mentors others. Greywater’s message is: never give up on your dream.

The eight participants suggest personal backstories can be as healing as medicine. As the Cankdeska Cikana Community College website says, “Healing Our Communities One Story at a Time.”

Next stop: Sulphur, Oklahoma

Written by nlmral

November 21, 2014 at 11:47 am

NLM health totem journey – Onondaga blessing

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Onondaga NY – The healing totem stop at the Onondaga Nation, located just outside Syracuse, NY, began at their recently built Long House, which is situated by a cemetery and a gathering hall.

While waiting for the ceremonies to commence, I met with many of the Onondaga organizers. They were welcoming even though they were very busy.

 (Great Law Wampum Belt)

I discovered the Onondaga Nation is steadfast about their right to sovereignty. For example, the Onondaga Nation does not accept federal funds although it could through the federal-trust relationship. The Onondaga Nation issues its own passports, operates a fully-functional tribal government with traditionally chosen leadership, and its citizenry work to keep their language and culture alive through generations.

A poster summarizes the Nation’s sentiment. It was made by the National Museum of the American Indian that showed a wampum belt of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy symbol, with the following caption:

“You’re looking at the first draft of The Constitution.  Before the ideas of inalienable rights, liberty, and democracy were strung together in words, they were strung together in beads made of shells – in this Iroquois Confederacy Wampum Belt.  It represents 1,000 years of democratic principles that we Indians shared with our newer brothers and sisters.  (Including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin who openly acknowledged in speeches and in writing that our contribution formed the basis of The Constitution.)  We shared our belief that leaders should represent and serve the people.  Which was a startling belief in a world of kings and queens.  We shared what we call, The Great Law.  Which is the natural law of human dignity that precedes and underlies all other laws.  Even, We The People began as an ancient Indian phrase.  And it’s important to the pursuit of all our happiness that We The People now means, and continues to mean, We, All Of Us, Who Are Americans.”


  (Courtesy: American Indian Institute)

When the traditional leaders arrived, we gathered in the Long House and proceeded to go through the parliamentary protocols conducted in the Onondaga language.  When the visitors were accepted by the traditional leadership to be there, we were asked to introduce ourselves.  When we finished speaking, the leadership asked us questions and finally gave their support for the healing totem journey and the National Library of Medicine’s Native Voices exhibit.

The blessing of the totem pole actually took place the next day. After a lunch in the Long House, we showed the healing totem to a local elementary school.  NLM healing totem carver Jewell James and fellow Lummi member-healing totem journey videographer, Fred Lane, explained the totem to the students, and offered any prayers they wished.

It was a great opportunity to have the Onondaga Nation bless the healing totem pole, learn about the Onondaga Nation, and speak about the National Library of Medicine’s work.

Dylan Raintree

National Library of Medicine

Written by nlmral

October 20, 2011 at 11:56 am

Guest Blog – Installation of the Healing Totem at NLM

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The totem pole is lifted from the flatbed truck, suspended horizontally.    Bethesda, MD. (October 2, 2011) - The healing totem was raised in the herb garden in front of the National Library of Medicine (NLM). Some clouds and rain did not dampen the spirit and enthusiasm of the people that gathered to bring the healing totem to its final home.   The installation included those who traveled with the healing totem during its 5000 mile journey to NLM and persons who attended to welcome the totem to NLM .

The totem is lifted upright with a crane.

The day started early in the morning with the arrival of the NLM Exhibitions Program team, NLM Building Operations, and the Bonsai Fine Arts installation crew who began preparing the site for the installation.  Joining with the artist, Jewell James and his team, the fine arts installation crew carefully prepared the healing totem for removal from the truck.  The totem was wrapped in blankets to protect its painted and carved surface, strapped securely, and with the help of a 95 foot crane slowly lifted from its horizontal position on the truck to a vertical upright position.

The totem is moved over the herb garden under a cloudy sky.

It looked beautiful against the blue and cloudy sky.  Then, the totem was carefully walked across the herb garden, positioned above its metal bracket, and slowly lowered into place.

Following the placement of the healing totem, a prayer ceremony was held for all who were part of the journey and a part of the installation of the totem.  A prayer was given by Emerson Gorman asking permission of the ground and the spirits to place the healing totem on this spot.

participants stand around the totem, standing on its base during a prayer ceremony.

Prayer ceremony after the healing totem installation.

A sense of peace, happiness and completion was felt by all who attended and participated.  The healing totem’s journey came full circle from its beginnings in Semiahmoo, Washington to its final home at NLM.

a group of people stand in front of the totem posing.

Artist Jewell James with the NLM Exhibition Program staff, NLM Building Operations, Bonsai and Fine Arts Specialists installation crew.

Jill Newmark

Exhibition Registrar

National Library of Medicine

Photos by Deshaun Williams

Written by Circulating Now

October 4, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Guest blog – Arrow Park, N.Y. blessing (day two)

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Arrow Park, N.Y.  (October 1, 2011) –  The second day at Arrow Park was as moving as the first. On the second day, the New York City Fire Department (NYFD) planted a memorial tree to honor those lost in the 9-11 attacks.

The NYFD does this annually; and urges family and friends to attend the event. Music and a drum program wrapped up the morning, followed by a picnic.

When it was time for the blessing of the healing totem, about 70 spectators heard NYFD’s Chaplain Christopher Keenan share excerpts from a speech by Chief Seattle.  Keenan then turned to the NLM healing totem travelers and offered a prayer and song of blessing that brought tears to the eyes of many of the travelers.

A representative from Yakima Nation blessed the totem and travelers with a song, before carver, Jewell James, House of Tears Carvers, explained the markings on NLM’s healing totem.

The ceremony concluded with the NYFD presenting all the healing totem travelers with a red feather amulet, consisting of a red feather, a white bead, and a gold medallion.  The red feather symbolizes freedom, prayer and courage. The white bead sends a message of healing and hope. The gold medallion represents honor and devotion.  Each amulet hung from a piece of twig, which was clipped from the memorial trees.

Renae Barger

Executive Director

National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Middle Atlantic Region

Health Sciences Library

University of Pittsburgh


Written by nlmral

October 2, 2011 at 7:22 am

Guest blog – Arrow Park, N.Y. blessing (1)

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Arrow Park, NY  (September 30, 2011)  –  I had the privilege to attend the welcoming celebration of the NLM healing totem at Arrow Park, which is adjacent to Sterling Forest and the Appalachian Trail — about one hour north of Manhattan.

Arrow Park is the home of a Healing Totem, dedicated by master carver, Jewell James in honor of the victims of the September 11 attacks.  In 2002, the Lummi Indians dedicated this Healing Totem and marked Arrow Park as a special place of healing.  Since then, Arrow Park has been the site of programs by the New York City Fire Department, such as an annual tree planting to honor 9/11 victims.

      The speaker’s platform at Arrow Park. The healing totem is in the back!

       (Photo: courtesy of Kathy Cravedi)

In the past several years, Arrow Park hosted other healing programs for children and families. For example, Calvary Hospital in New York sponsors an annual camp for children who have lost a loved one. Arrow Park also is the site of professional training programs about bereavement, suicide prevention, and post traumatic stress disorder.

The day began with activities such as hiking and boating, while music filled the background.  A video was shown in the pavilion chronicling the journey and dedication of the 2002 Healing Totem.

More than 100 spectators attended a welcoming ceremony by the lake.  The Redhawk Native American Arts Council, maintained by Native American artists and educators who reside in and around the New York City area, praised the beautiful surroundings and paid honor as well as respect through song.

Malachy Corrigan, Director, New York City Fire Department Counseling Unit, and Kim Ahearn, Program Director, Family Programs from the New York City Fire Department praised the Lummi Nation for their role in healing. Eve Bucca, who lost her husband on 9-11, also thanked the Lummi Nation for honoring and healing past loss.

Kurt Russo, Director of Native American Land Conservancy, told the journey of the NLM Healing Totem that started in Washington on September 12 and will end at the National Library of Medicine after leaving Arrow Park.

Fred Lane, a photographer and filmmaker with the Lummi Indian Nation, who participated in both the current and the 2002 Healing Totem journeys, asked attendees to remember our loved ones and ancestors.  “The great you do in your life will come back to you when you are gone,’ Lane said.

Jewell James played a beautiful song on a wooden, carved flute. “No matter who we are racially or religiously, we are all human beings, “ he said.

James explained the meaning behind the markings on the NLM Healing Totem. He praised  NIH, NLM, and NLM’s Director Dr. Donald Lindberg for recognizing, bringing attention to, and preserving the traditional healing and medicines of Native Americans. James added the NLM healing totem journey is a way to awaken Indian Nations and remind them to practice and protect their traditional healing practices.

Other members of the NLM Healing Totem journey team were introduced and the ceremony concluded with Paul Dolan and his wife, Joanne, who recognized the volunteers and supporters who coordinated the preservation of 462 acres of land along the Appalachian Trail to Sterling Forest.

During closing remarks, Chief Perry, Ramapough Lunappe Nation thanked everyone for working together.  And, Fred Lane presented Paul Dolan with a whale necklace from the NLM Healing Totem journey team, resulting in the singing of the ‘whale’ song.

I was moved by the beauty and symbolism of the 9/11 and the NLM Healing Totems, and I was especially touched by the healing programs offered at Arrow Park.

Renae Barger

Executive Director

National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Middle Atlantic Region

Health Sciences Library

University of Pittsburgh

Written by nlmral

October 1, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Guest blog – Chicago blessing

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American Indian Center of Chicago (September 24, 2011)  - I had the privilege to attend four of the totem pole blessing events that took place in the Greater Midwest Region. I was involved with coordinating and organizing some of the events, especially in Chicago.

Previously, I attended numerous pow wows and a Sunrise ceremony, but this was my first series of totem blessings.

The Chicago event was attended by more than 50 people and was hosted by urban American Indians as opposed to a tribal nation. The American Indian Center (AIC) of Chicago, is the oldest urban American Indian Center in the country.

The attending tribal members represented diverse origins. Several of the attendees, such as the drum group, and the singers wore traditional outfits.

       Some of the crowd at the Chicago blessing

       Photo courtesy of Samanthi Hewakapuge

The entire ceremony was moving; the drummers and the singers (including several women) delivered powerful songs.

Master Carver Jewell James played flute and explained how he learned to play the instrument. I was especially moved when the travelers were honored, maybe because I followed them for a week in North Dakota, Wisconsin, and now saw them in my home town.

The blessing was delivered by Mike “Macky” Pamonicutt, who is the head of veterans’ activities for Chicago area American Indians.


Other speakers included:

-        Joseph Podlasek, Executive Director of the AIC, who also was our host

-         Marty R. Castro, the new chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission

-        Ameya Pawar, Chicago 47th Ward Alderman

-        Jewell James, Dr. Kurt  Russo, Emerson Gorman, and Lelani Feliciano, who represented the travellers

-        Melanie Modlin, and Dylan Rain Tree, who represented NLM.

      Jewell James and some of the other travelers at the Chicago blessing

      Photo courtesy of Samanthi Hewakapuge

A video about the Native Voices exhibit was shown to the audience after lunch. Jewell James took this opportunity to educate the audience about how they harvested the tree, and how he incorporated native stories related to native health and wellness into the totem pole’s carvings. Dylan Rain Tree spoke about how he got involved with the exhibit and its progress.

It was an honor to be involved in this project, as a staff member of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine. I had an interesting experience working with our member librarians serving American Indian community colleges, where five of the blessings took place. I worked with AIC staff,  got to know the travelers, and welcome them to Chicago.

I enjoyed an opportunity to escort the totem pole and the travelers out of Chicago. Driving them through the Lake Shore Drive, with Lake Michigan on one side and Chicago skyline on the other, was the high point of my experience.

Samanthi Hewakapuge, MA, MLS
Consumer Health Coordinator
National Network of Libraries of Medicine
Greater Midwest Region
Library of the Health Sciences – University of Illinois-Chicago

Written by nlmral

September 30, 2011 at 2:20 pm

NLM healing totem journey – about Arrow Park, NY

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From its brief stay with the Mohegan, in Connecticut, the NLM Healing Totem made a pilgrimage to Arrow Park (http://www.arrowparkny.com/) in Sterling Forest State Park (http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/74/details.aspx). Sterling Forest is outside of Monroe, NY, some 38 miles northwest of New York City.

Arrow Park is a private, non-commercial enclave within Sterling Forest that hosts bereavement programs for children, and support programs for the families of 9/11 victims, and Ground Zero recovery workers and their families.

It was here in 2002, that Jewell Praying Wolf James, master carver of the NLM’s Healing Totem, placed one of three memorial totems he carved to commemorate the nation’s worst-ever terrorist attacks. The others stand at the Pentagon, in Arlington, VA, and in Shanksville, PA.

                 Arrow Park, NY  

                 Totem sculpted by Jewell James 2002           

                 Courtesy of Arrow Park


The welcoming ceremony for the NLM Healing Totem also celebrated the recent acquisition of 462 acres along the Appalachian Trail to Sterling Forest. At just under 22,000 acres of pristine woodland, deep forest, and sparkling lakes, the park is a remarkable natural refuge in one of the nation’s most densely populated states. It is a sister forest to the Arlecho Creek Forest, sacred to Jewell James’ Lummi Nation, east of Bellingham, WA.


                                                               Lake View: Sterling Forest State Park

   Courtesy of New York State

   Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation


As with the NLM totem, Jewell James carved the Arrow Park memorial totem from a red cedar tree. It stands 13 feet high, weighs about a ton and incorporates various symbolic creatures. An eagle sits atop, representing the male victims of 9/11, while just below is a bear, representing that terrible day’s female casualities. At the base sits a bear cub, symbolic of the children who lost mothers, fathers, other family members and friends.

Jewell James brought this and the other 9/11 totems east on a journey similar to the NLM Healing totem, including pole-blessings at diverse reservations across the country.

Written by nlmral

September 30, 2011 at 8:42 am


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