Guest blog – Chicago blessing

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.

A small crowd gathers in front of the healing totem, which is strapped to the bed of a flatbed truck.

Some of the crowd at the Chicago blessing.
(Photo courtesy of Samanthi Hewakapuge.)

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.

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 American Indian Center, 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
A small group stands on the steps in front of a brown brick building, flags ceremoniously placed behind them.

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
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