NLM healing totem journey – White Earth Tribal community college blessing

Mahnomen, Minnesota (September 21, 2011) –  When the healing totem pole was blessed at the White Earth reservation, there were some special guests in attendance. Students from Pine Point Elementary, a public school on the reservation, made an hour-long trip to experience the blessing ceremony and see the totem.

“Cool. I’ve never seen a totem before,” said one student, who, upon learning the totem was headed to the National Library of Medicine, added “I like books.”

The ceremony at the White Earth Tribal Community College was held indoors on an unseasonably chilly, damp day. Students sat on the floor in the middle of a large room and were ringed by adults.

When the ceremony was over, the students and their teachers went outside to see the totem, which was on the flatbed truck transporting it to NLM. A ladder was placed next to the truck, and with their teachers watching ever so closely, the students took turns climbing up the ladder to see and touch the totem. They not only marveled at the carved and painted part of the totem, but also studied the bottom that was exposed on the back end of the truck.


         The NLM healing totem pole from the back of its truck

         (Photo: courtesy of Shana Potash)

Watching the enthusiasm and curiosity of the students made the event meaningful because we were witnessing tradition and knowledge being shared.

In remarks before and after the ceremony, a tribal representative spoke of the “protection of our culture.” Tribal elder Andrew Favorite said he “drove his grandparents crazy asking them so many questions.” Then he told the students, “For those of you have questions, please come ask me.”

Master carver Jewell James said, “It’s up to us to protect our knowledge and make sure it’s transferred to our children.” And Fred Lane, a photographer and filmmaker with the Lummi Indian Nation told the students, “Someday you’ll be standing here speaking for your people. I encourage you to learn all you can and listen to your teachers.”

Shana Potash

National Library of Medicine

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