SUM welcomes the sacred Bears Ears Totem Pole

Southern Ute Councilman Cedric J. Chavez, Ute Councilman Shaun Chapoose, carver Douglas James, carver Heather Dawn, Southern Ute Councilwoman Pearl Casias, carver Jewell James and little carver Kayden Nogueira stand next to the Bears Ears Totem Pole after it was presented to the Southern Ute Museum Sunday, July 22.
Ute Tribe Councilman Shaun Chapoose and Southern Ute Councilmen Cedric J. Chavez join each other for the presentation of the Totem Pole held at the Southern Ute Museum.
Throughout the totem pole, there are detailed aspects that represent the Ute and Native people of the region. The pole is a representation of the sacred lands surrounding the Bears Ears and reflects the history of these sacred sites.
Maria Rivera | Special to the Drum
Maria Rivera | Special to the Drum
Maria Rivera | Special to the Drum

The Southern Ute Museum introduced the newest exhibit to community members and visitors, Sunday, July 22. Over 50 people gathered at SUM to welcome the Bears Ears Totem Pole carved by House of Tears Carvers from the Lummi Nation. Southern Ute Councilwoman Pearl Casias provided the invocation in the Ute language. The Ute Tribe Councilman and Co-Chair of the Bears Ears Coalition, Shaun Chapoose, spoke on behalf of his tribe and the Coalition. “The goal of the coalition is to protect our resources and the totem pole will be around longer than us as a reminder,” stated Chapoose.

The House of Tears Carvers: Jewell James, Douglas James, Heather Dawn and the youngest of the carvers, Kayden Nogueira presented the Bears Ears Totem Pole to the museum, with visitors in attendance. The carvers have always fought for sacred sights and continue to engage in long term battles to protect anything sacred, while they created the piece they provided prayers before, during and after — to encourage people to come together and pray with one another, Jewell James explained. “It is a lot of work, we think about what we feel and what we lost as Native people. We prayed on this pole and we believe those prayers will be passed to the people,” James said. “We are proud to have been able to go to Bears Ears, we have love for you and your being as Natives.”

Braiden Weeks, Descendant of the Ute Tribe and the Strategic Engagement Specialist for Utah Dine Bikeyah, reached out to Southern Ute Museum Director, Linda Baker in early July, inquiring about the museum housing the Bears Ears Totem Pole until they found a permanent location for the sacred piece. Linda Baker said that usually with exhibits, everything is planned at least six months prior to being placed in the museum. When the opportunity arose to house the sacred totem, she didn’t think twice and started to process. “Everyone involved was running around like their hair was on fire, but in the end everything went as planned and overall it has been a success and a blessing,” Baker said.

The Bears Ears Totem Pole will be temporarily housed at the SUM until the Bears Ears Coalition can find a permanent home for the exhibit. It can be here for a very short period or long term. The unique aspect about the exhibit is that it’s the only exhibit in the museum that you can touch. When you touch the totem, you can say prayers as well as receive prayers from it.

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