Beneath Healing Wings

Jewell James, master carver of the Lummi Nation, near Bellingham, said the process of carving has been “healing” for him. James, who began studying under master carvers in 1992, has lost two of his children and a brother. Today, a totem pole he created to honor veterans was unveiled at the Washington State Veteran’s Home at Retsil. But is it really that simple? Can one look at a piece of art and feel the burden of wounds and worries decades old lifted away?
According to Richard Shreder, who took over as superintendent of the Veterans Home this week, James’ “Healing Pole” has already had a profound influence on residents.
“As soon as it went up, residents were walking up to it, touching it, asking questions about it,” Shreder said. “It was powerful.”
Here’s the story.

A new piece of art work is getting a lot of attention from Retsil veterans.
By Chris Henry
No sooner was the “Healing Pole” erected in the courtyard of the Washington State Veteran’s Home at Retsil Monday, than residents began to walk (or wheel) up to it, touch it, talk about it.
The 16-foot totem pole, a gift from the Lummi Nation, honors all veterans and especially Native Americans who have served in the military. A dedication and unveiling of the pole took place Thursday, Flag Day, at the home, with dignitaries and many veterans, Indian and non-Indian, in attendance.
The totem pole, made of a single cedar log, shows a person enfolded beneath the wings of a fiercely protective eagle.
“It shows an eagle lifting the spirit of a veteran,” said master carver Jewell Praying Wolf James, a member of the Lummi Nation and principal artist of the House of Tears Carvers, which created the piece.
James, who began carving in 1992, formed House of Tears with several other Lummi carvers. All but him are now deceased. House of Tears has made Healing Poles and Honoring Poles that are on display throughout the country, including one each near the site of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Shakesville, Pa., where flight 93 went down on September 11th.
”For me, I got into totem pole carving because it was a process of healing for me,” said James, who has lost several members of his family, including two children and a brother.
While James did the design and most of the carving on the Healing Pole, he got a lot of help from youngsters both within and outside the Lummi Nation, near Bellingham. Young people interested in learning the ancient art helped peel the bark, apply the bold colors and even do some of the simpler carving, James said.
“We are absolutely overwhelmed. Words are inadequate to describe how we feel to receive this wonderful gift,” said John Lee, director of the Washington State Department of Veteran’s Affairs, after the totem pole was unveiled by James and “First Gentleman” Mike Gregoire.
“It serves as a beautiful symbol of our respect for military veterans of all creeds and nationalities,” said Gregoire, who attended the ceremony on behalf of his wife, Gov. Chris Gregoire. “No one performs a higher service than those who protect our freedom and democracy. Thank you for honoring them.”
“It’s a beautiful piece of work,” said Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman. “I think it’s going to help with the people who are here today and the people who will be coming here in the future.”
While the Healing Pole is dedicated to all veterans, Native American vets got special recognition at the ceremony. Evelyn Jefferson, Chairwoman of the Lummi Nation noted that ever since World War I, a significant percentage of Native Americans have joined the armed services. More than 12,000 fought in “the war to end all wars,” said Jefferson, even though they did not have the rights of citizenship at that time.
By 1942, at least 90 percent of all healthy male Native Americans, age 21 to 44, had registered for military service. Had an equal percentage of the non-Indian population joined, there would have been no need for the draft at that time, Jefferson said.
The day Pearl Harbor was bombed, there were 5,000 Native Americans in the military. By war’s end, that number had jumped to 44,521. During the Vietnam War, 90 percent of the roughly 50,000 Native Americans in uniform were volunteers.
Veterans at the ceremony were clearly moved by the piece.
“As a veteran, a woman vet from Vietnam, I want to thank all of you for bringing us together,” said resident Trish Hurley, who is not Native American. “I think it was a long due honor for the different tribes who participated in all the wars, conflicts and services. I think it’s a stepping stone bringing us closer.”
Performing at the dedication were the Swan Dancers, young members of the Lummi Nation’s Swan Clan, led by their grandparents Jack and Beverly Cagey.
At the close of the ceremony, Taps was played and a contingent of Native Americans from various wars and branches of the service retired the colors, with Cagey drumming and singing a song that was at once sad and comforting.

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