Totem pole calling attention to Indigenous environmental issues to stop in North Dakota, Minnesota

Activists and tribal leaders hope the totem pole calls President Joe Biden's attention to protect culturally significant sites across the country that are threatened by climate change and the fossil fuel industry.

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Two members of the House of Tears Carvers painting the totem pole. / Jason Jones, The Natural History Museum
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FORT YATES, N.D. — A 5,000-pound totem pole will arrive on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and at the Shell City Campground in northern Minnesota this weekend to call on President Joe Biden to shut down the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline and halt construction of the Line 3 replacement project.

The totem pole, carved by the group “House of Tears Carvers” of the Lummi Nation in northwest Washington state, is embarking on a two-week journey to Washington, D.C. The goal is to call Biden’s attention to the culturally significant sites across the U.S. and how they are endangered by climate change and the fossil fuel industry.

“Each stop on our journey will be a time for prayer and reflection, as people across Indian Country share their hopes for a future where our most sacred places, the places we worship and gather foods and medicine, are protected,” said Jewell “Praying Wolf” James, master carver with the House of Tears Carvers and citizen of the Lummi Nation, in a statement.

The 25-foot totem pole aims to connect the communities it visits and to carry "the spirit of the lands it visits and the power and prayers of communities along the way,” according to the Red Road to D.C. website , which is the name of the pole’s journey.


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The totem pole at the Wishtoyo Sacred Village north of Malibu, California in June / House of Tears Carvers

The totem pole is expected to arrive in the nation's capital on July 29, where communities and activists will hold an exhibition and gift the pole to the Biden-Harris administration.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe will welcome the totem pole on Saturday, July 24, as its arrival represents solidarity with the multi-year fight the tribal nation has had with the Dakota Access Pipeline, which the tribe says would devastate its water supply if an oil spill were to occur.

From Fort Yates, N.D., the pole will travel to Menahga, Minn., Sunday, July 25, where activists and organizers have created the Shell City Campground to gather in protest of the construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline.

If you go

North Dakota, Standing Rock Sioux Reservation:

  • Where: In front of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Administration Building, Fort Yates.
  • When: Saturday, July 24, beginning at 9 a.m.

Minnesota, Shell City Campground:

  • Where: Off 390th Street, Menahga, Minn.
  • When: Sunday, July 25, beginning at 4 p.m.
Michelle (she/her, English speaker) is a Bismarck-based journalist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities.
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