One of the groups of native people whose ancestors fished off of San Juan Island for thousands of years are the Lummi people. Today’s Lummi reservation is near Bellingham. After September 11, 2001 Lummi Nation council member and master carver Jewell “Praying Wolf” James had a vision. According to Kari Shaw of the Bellingham Herald, Jewell James was looking out from the shore when he saw “hundreds of totem poles bobbing in the water beneath a silvery moon. But the moon was going east, the wrong way across the sky. Then he was flying on a totem pole himself, chasing the errant moon and looking back and down on the gravel canoe grounds of the reservation.” The Great Spirit told James, “Look at the reds, the blacks, the whites and the yellows”.
James responded to his vision by working with fellow carvers in the House of Tears, a 20-ft long carving shed carving a Healing Pole for the victims of the New York City 9-11 attack out of a giant cedar tree hundreds of years old. The next year they carved an Honoring Pole for the site of the flight 93 crash in Pennsylvania. Then in 2004 they presented the Liberty and Freedom Poles to the Pentagon in Washington DC.
According to James the colors on the poles, red, white, black & yellow reflect the four races of America. “I think America is beautiful because we’re composed of all four races and we believe in liberty and freedom – the freedom to choose our own leadership and remove them, the liberty to practice our own native beliefs our own form of organized religion.”
Each pole was driven across the country to its site stopping at Native American communities along the way to receive traditional blessings. The Healing Pole in New York is now permanently installed in the Sterling Forest, an hour from Manhattan. The pole faces west toward a corresponding pole in the Lummi Semiahmoo cemetery. Together they grace the entire nation with healing prayers.
The Honoring Pole in Pennsylvania depicts a bear holding a human. It represents the courage of the passengers and crewmembers of Flight 93 who according to James, "had to have the strength of a bear to do what they did."
In September of 2004 the Freedom and Liberty Poles were raised at the pentagon and remained there for a year before being permanently installed in District of Columbia’s Memorial Grove on Kingman Island in the Anacostia River. The Liberty Pole is carved as a female Bear with Grandmother Moon on her abdomen. The Freedom Pole is carved as a male Bear with Grandfather Moon. The uniting crossbar represents Sovereignty upheld by Liberty and Freedom. “We have the power to heal, the power to love each other, the power to unite,” said James, “That’s what the symbol is about.”