Native activists begin cross-country tour to highlight at-risk sacred sites

courtesy Red Road to DC

Group says Biden must address crisis posed by development in Indian Country 

Native American activists and allies from across the country recently began a cross-country tour called the Red Road to DC to highlight the threats to Indigenous sacred sites. They will transport a totem pole carved by the House of Tears Carvers from Lummi Nation to each sacred site to highlight the importance of President Biden taking immediate action to protect the areas.  

“It is our Xa xalh Xechnging, our sacred obligation, as Lummi people, to care for our lands, waters, and all living things on Earth,” said Jewell James (Lummi), master carver at House of Tears Carvers. “Each person who comes to the events at the sacred sites who lays their hands on it, is instilling it with a message and a prayer that the places Indian people pray, and collect foods and medicines, will be protected.”  

The tour will include stops in: Snake River at the Washington/Idaho border; Bears Ears in Utah; Chaco Canyon in New Mexico; the Black Hills in South Dakota; the Missouri River in Yankton South Dakota; Standing Rock; Line 3 oil pipeline in Minnesota; and Line 5 pipeline in Michigan. The tour will end in Washington, D.C., with a press event and rally on the National Mall. Tour organizers include House of Tears Carvers, The Natural History Museum, IllumiNative, Native Organizers Alliance, Se’Si‘Le, and the National Congress of American Indians. 

Following the tour, the totem pole will be exhibited outside of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian to coincide with the Kwel’ Hoy: We Draw the Line exhibition about the history of the Lummi totem pole journeys, developed by The Natural History Museum and the House of Tears Carvers.  

“As monuments to colonialism are dismantled across the nation, the totem pole creates a new kind of monument, one that serves to build alliances around our collective obligation to care for our lands and waters for the generations to come,” said Rosalyn LaPier (Blackfeet/Métis), Ph.D., board member at The Natural History Museum. “It also challenges us to address environmental racism and the growing climate crisis.”  

“Native peoples are organizing to influence policy change,” said Judith LeBlanc (Caddo), director of the Native Organizers Alliance. “Sacred places have been threatened for generations by development, extraction, and infrastructure projects. The federal government is failing in its responsibility to tribes to gain consent before projects are approved.” 

A petition organized by the Red Road to DC tour has been signed by 6,000 people so far. It calls on President Biden to take immediate action to ensure all federal departments include free, prior, and informed consent when considering projects that affect Native lands, waters, and resources.  

“Native peoples have and will continue to show our political power,” said Crystal Echo Hawk (Pawnee), executive director of IllumiNative. “The events of 2020 showed our strength and influence when record numbers of Native voters came out in key states. This journey is also a call to action: Our sacred sites, our land, our people must be respected. Native people cannot and will not be ignored.” 

“It is unacceptable to continue with the existing strategy of build first, and fight it out with tribes in court later,” Jay Julius (Lummi), executive director of Se’Si’Le. “There is a treaty responsibility to gain consent of affected tribes that is not being upheld. This is creating a crisis in Indian Country where our most sacred places are at risk. President Biden can and should take action today to fix this problem.”  

 For more information about the tour visit: www.redroadtodc.org 

D.C. tour dates: 

  • July 14 – Lummi Reservation (departure)  
  • July 15 – Snake River, Clarkston, WA (Washington/Idaho border) 
  • July 17 – Bears Ears, UT 
  • July 18 – Chaco Canyon, Navajo Reservation, NM 
  • July 21 – Black Hills, SD (not open to the public or media)  
  • July 22 – Missouri River, Yankton Reservation, SD 
  • July 24 – Dakota Access Pipeline, Standing Rock Reservation, ND 
  • July 25 – Line 3 Pipeline, White Earth Reservation, MN 
  • July 27 – Line 5 Pipeline, Mackinaw City, MI 
  • July 29 – Washington D.C. 

 About House of Tears Carvers 

The House of Tears Carvers has created a tradition of carving and delivering totem poles to areas struck by disaster, or otherwise in need of hope and healing. The first such journey was in 2001 in the wake of the September 11th tragedy in New York. In 2013 the Lummi people began, what would turn out to be, a yearly totem pole journey, in response to the threat of a 50-million-ton coal export terminal proposal on their traditional and sacred lands at Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point). Each year, the totem pole has been brought to tribal and non-tribal communities throughout the country seeking to honor, unite and empower communities in the destructive path of fossil fuel extraction and environmental degradation.  

 About Native Organizers Alliance: 

The Native Organizers Alliance (NOA) is dedicated to building the organizing capacity of tribes, organizers and community groups for transformational policy change. It also provides a forum for Native leaders, organizers and organizations to work in collaboration with each other and promote their work with non-Native national allies. To learn more visit http://nativeorganizing.org/about-us/ 

 About Se’Si’Le 

Se’Si’Le (saw-see-lah) is the Lummi language term for our grandmother. Respect for elders is central to Native life: to acknowledge Grandmother Earth is to invoke ancestral and cultural power. Founded by Lummi tribal member Jay Julius, Se’Si’Le reintroduces Indigenous spiritual law into the mainstream conversation about climate change and the environment. To learn more visit www.se-si-le.org 

 About The Natural History Museum:  

The Natural History Museum leverages the power of history, museums, monuments, and movements to change narratives, build alliances, educate the public and drive civic engagement in support of community-led movements for climate and environmental justice. To learn more visit http://thenaturalhistorymuseum.org. 

 About IllumiNative:  

IlllumiNative is a Native woman-led racial and social justice organization that is dedicated to increasing the visibility of Native peoples. Our mission is to build power for Native peoples by amplifying contemporary Native voices, stories and issues to advance justice, equity, and self-determination. To learn more visit www.illuminatives.org 

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