Lummi carver donates totem pole to Ferndale school

John Stark, The Bellingham Herald
3/30/10

FERNDALE, Wash. (AP) – Eagleridge Elementary School Principal John Fairbairn and his staff wanted to acknowledge the school’s many Lummi Nation students with a totem pole, but he wasn’t sure how to pay for one.

He had discussed the subject with Ramona James and her husband Jewell James, a noted Lummi carver, but nothing in that conversation prepared him for what happened next: Jewell James dropped in and told him, “Your totem pole’s done.”

“I was completely chin-on-the-floor surprised,” Fairbairn said. “It’s an enormous gift. ... When we’re pinching pennies on everything we need for kids, this is an incredible donation. Pretty much every nickel and dime goes into the basics.”

About one-third of the approximately 500 students at Eagleridge are Lummi, and the totem pole will be part of an ongoing effort to make those students feel that Eagleridge is their school, too. Fairbairn said he and his staff launched that effort last year after they got a disturbing message from Lummi students.

“One of the things we heard was, they didn’t see anything at the school that made it clear it was their place, too,” Fairbairn said. “If they feel it is their place, they will learn more.”

Ramona James was already involved in the school’s efforts, bringing some tribal artifacts for display at the school. But the 17-foot pole carved by Jewell James will provide a powerful new symbol. It shows an orca – the school mascot – as well as the eagle in the school’s name.

Similar poles can sell for thousands of dollars.

“We would never have been able to afford something like this in 100 years,” Fairbairn said.

Jewell James said he and his wife didn’t want money troubles to prevent the school from installing an important symbol that he hopes will be meaningful to all Eagleridge students. He got his House of Tears Carvers group to work on the project, and he wants it to stimulate all students to learn more about Native American art and culture.

He plans to donate a similar pole to Skyline Elementary School as well, and has already completed another pole that is being donated to Lummi Tribal School.

James said House of Tears Carvers also gets commercial contracts to produce poles, and the production of poles for donation is their way of sharing the proceeds of those projects, as tribal sharing traditions require.

While James and his carvers are donating their labor, Lummi Nation has donated the cedar logs for the Eagleridge, Skyline and Lummi Tribal School poles.

Tribal Chairman Henry Cagey said the logs were harvested to clear land for the tribe’s 72-unit Kwina Village housing project along Kwina Road near the tribal headquarters.

“We could have sold them and made a lot of money, but it was better to share them and keep them in the community,” Cagey said. “It’s part of our responsibility to give back to the Ferndale School District.”

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