Guest blog – Semiahmoo blessing

      Semiahmoo, WA. (September 13, 2011) – It was my privilege to participate in the inaugural blessing ceremony for the healing totem that was held at Semiahmoo Park, ancestral lands of the Lummi people, in Washington State.

I have attended pow wows in the past, but never a ceremony such as what I saw today.

Ceremonial blessings were offered by tribal elders, both in word and in song.  We were also greeted by Chief Bill James of the Lummi nation and Chairman Clifford Cultee of the Lummi nation.  Some of the greetings were in the Lummi language and some were in English.

One of the tribal elders used a smudge stick over all the 50 attendees as well as the totem itself in order to cleanse and purify with smoke.

The Chief wore a special blanket wrap and carried a staff.  Many of the Lummi people also wore traditional woven hats made of cedar bark.

Also, those who were named as witnesses to the event, along with several other dignitaries, were presented with blankets.  Jewell James, master carver of the totem, said during his remarks that offering the blankets was a way of showing affection and gratitude without being as “intrusive” as a hug.

A Lummi elder wearing a blanket over her shoulder leads a blessing in front of a group of onlookers.

I found the ceremony very moving because of the participation of the Lummi community.  It was wonderful to see all generations present to acknowledge the importance of the event.

Chairman Cultee, during his remarks, mentioned that the U.S. is a nation in need of healing.  I found this to be particularly poignant on the heels of the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

At another point it was said, “The pole isn’t sacred – the gathering of the people is what’s sacred.”  It’s apparent that relationships and community are of great importance to the Lummi people.

Later, one of the Lummi elderly women, who was a tribal witness to the event, said she always mentions her age (93) because it honors the Great Spirit. She offered a prayer over the totem as well as the people that will be traveling with it.

I was moved that the blessings were offered not just over the totem, but also over Jewell James and the people with whom he would be traveling.  It was touching to see his home community offering such care and concern for him and his family as they prepare for their long trip.

Jewell James said Native people often feel like they aren’t being heard, much like in the children’s story “Horton Hears A Who.” He added that the National Library of Medicine, by commissioning the healing totem and hosting the upcoming Native Voices exhibit, is saying “We hear you!”

I learned a lot about how the totem came into existence – how the tree was selected with input from the Forest Service, and how the images were chosen and why.

I was intrigued to learn that the images represent several different traditions.  For example, the image of the Basket Woman at the bottom of the totem also integrates White Shell Woman from another tradition.  I was also pleased to learn that the House of Tears Carvers involve many people from the community of all ages, and that children and young people are encouraged to help with the carving and painting of the totem.

The Lummi nation are also very proud of Jewell James and the House of Tears carvers – rightly so!

Gail Kouame

Consumer Health Outreach Coordinator, National Network of Libraries of Medicine

Pacific Northwest Region

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