Brandy Calabaza, Brandi Douglas · August 4, 2021

“A New Era of Indigenous Policy and Power”: Totem Pole to Protect Sacred Sites Delivered to Deb Haaland in Washington

A collaborative effort to protect sacred sites while uplifting the need for free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples on lands routinely targeted and desecrated by industrial extraction.

On Thursday, July 29th NDN Collective joined the Red Road to DC Totem Pole Journey cohort, presenting the 25-foot, 5,000-pound totem pole to Secretary of Interior, Deb Haaland, on the grounds of the Washington, D.C. National Mall. Numerous Tribal delegations, leaders and community members gathered to welcome the totem pole as it reached this final destination on its journey.

The journey, which started on July 14 in Lummi, Washington with the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation, made stops at sacred Indigenous sites around the country, including in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where NDN Collective hosted a ceremony to bless the totem pole and the spirit of the journey. Organizers of the journey aimed to bring awareness and voice the necessity of protecting sacred sites by uplifting the need for free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples protecting lands routinely targeted and desecrated by industrial extraction.

NDN Welcomes Totem Pole to Hesapa
Photo By: Willi White for NDN Collective

“Native peoples need to be consulted,” said Crystal Echo Hawk, IllumiNative Director, in an interview with the Washington Post. IllumiNative was a key organizer of the Red Road to DC Totem Pole Journey. “No one wants a corporation or government to come into your neighborhood and develop something that jeopardizes your drinking water or bulldozes your church. But that’s what essentially happens to Native Americans and our sacred sites.”

As relatives from across Turtle Island converged on the lawn of the National Mall to bear witness to this monumental event, the spirit of the journey emanated through the crowd. Tribal leaders, community members and allies alike took turns carefully placing their hands on the smooth, hand-carved wood of the totem, offering continued blessings while also receiving the energy contained within it. Standing in this space, collectively, demonstrates just how powerful we can be when brought together by an effort to preserve and bring awareness to present issues continuing to impact Indigenous Nations and Tribes.

The moment was also an opportunity for Native delegations and organizers to advocate for a newly proposed bill in support of The Respect Act. This bill, originally introduced in March of this year, would require the United States to adopt policies, procedures, regulations, and laws honoring and supporting  Indigenous free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC), creating a space at the table for Indigenous leadership to voice their thoughts and concerns regarding targeted industrial development on sacred lands. The ultimate goal is to pass FPIC into law as the foundational basis of federal relations with Indigenous Peoples.

“We are stepping into a new era of Indigenous policy and power,” said Lycia Maddocks, NDN Collective Political Director. “The delegation that traveled from across Indian Country made their way to DC with the goal to make it clear that we expect consent over our lands, water, and wildlife.”

Photo By: Willi White for NDN Collective

“Indigenous voices are not just an opinion, they are a decision,” Maddocks continued. “Getting Indigenous lands back into Indigenous hands is achievable and it’s already happening with the recent bison range restoration and so many more examples. We hope our representatives heard us loud and clear: pass into law the requirement for free, prior, and informed consent with this nation’s Indigenous people.”

The Respect Act passed through the Senate in May 2021 and is now awaiting review and approval by the House of Congress. When passed into law, it will not only breathe life back into the treaty responsibilities and obligations by which the federal government has repeatedly failed to honor, but bring Indigenous communities back to the forefront of the discussion centering around the movement for landback.

Photo By: Willi White for NDN Collective

“It was a pure blessing to support and capture the final moments of the Red Road to DC Journey alongside our partner organizations IllumiNative and Native Organizers Alliance,” said Steph Viera, NDN Collective Social Media Manager. “I was deeply moved to be one of thousands to experience the masterfully hand-carved and painted work of our Lummi Nation relatives in person. What an honor it was to feel the deep spiritual healing and share the energy of those relatives who led and facilitated this journey from the start.”

The culminating event of the Red Road to DC was hosted in collaboration with co-organizers of the journey that included the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation, Native Organizers Alliance, Se’Si’Le, IllumiNative and The Natural History Museum.  For more coverage of the Red Road to DC: Totem Pole Journey for the Protection of Sacred Sites be sure to visit the Red Road to DC Youtube Channel HERE. TAKE ACTION NOW to continue supporting various Indigenous communities across Turtle Island combatting industrial development on their sacred sites.

Watch our Full Livestream of The Event Here

Brandy Calabaza
by   Brandy Calabaza

Brandy Calabaza (She/Her), Communications Associate, is Jicarilla Apache and Kewa Pueblo from Northern New Mexico. Brandy supports the Communications and Narrative Team with all aspects of content creation, targeted outreach, copywriting, and overall management of internal communications systems. Throughout and following college, she continued to build on her professional development holding various positions in her Tribal community, including working with the Nations courts in the prosecutorial setting, teaching language classes to children, and working with and empowering Native Youth. Brandy holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Native American and Indigenous Studies from Fort Lewis College and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Indigenous Peoples Law from the University of Oklahoma. 


Brandi Douglas
by   Brandi Douglas

Brandi Douglas (she/they), NDN Collective’s Senior Communications Associate, is a Puyallup Tribal member as well as Black and Mexican, from Washington state. In her role, she provides support to the Communications and Narratives Team as well as all aspects of content production and targeted outreach. Brandi is an avid wordsmith, having uplifted various narratives that speak to the experience of being an Indigenous entrepreneur, woman of color and queer. Brandi holds a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies from the University of Washington as well as a master’s degree in Indigenous Peoples Law from the University of Oklahoma.

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