Thursday, March 10, 2011

Centennial Riverwalk Park Totem Poles

Practically across the street from where we live is the Centennial Riverwalk Park. With the Nooksack River as its backdrop and plenty of benches along the way, it seemed the perfect place to stop after our walk on this sunny afternoon. David and Torrie look down river.
On Saturdays during the summer, a small Farmers Market sets up along the walkway, but this time of year, the park feels practially abandoned.
The Lummi Indians were the original inhabitants of the Ferndale area, and although forcibly moved to reservation lands in 1855, honor us by sharing their culture and art. The House of Tears Carvers from the Lummi Nation created three totem poles for the Riverwalk Park telling stories of the Nooksack River. This totem pole tells the story of the Lummis helping settlers carry supplies around a mile long log jam the clogged the river in the late 1800s.
The totem pole in front, on the right, of this next photo includes the figures of Bear's Wife, Bear and the Salmon Children. A plaque near this totem explains the story as follows: "Bear's Wife, Bear and the Salmon Children relate how the steelhead became the only salmon to return to the ocean after spawning while the others die at their spawning grounds. Bear's Wife is on top and underneath her figure is Bear. He was the brother of Raven who had brought Salmon Woman and her children to the Indian People. Bear's wife was pregnant, a time of powerful creation that was to be given great honor. As a consequence, Bear was forbidden to hunt or harvest salmon out of respect for her condition. Bear chose to violate this taboo and decided that he would go fishing regardless. In order not to be seen, he journeyed to the spawning grounds of the Salmon Children, as illustrated at the bottom of the totem pole, where he began to fish. Sadly, because he had acted selfishly and broken his vows, as he reached out and touched each of the Salmon Children, in turn they died. Only one of the Salmon Children, Steelhead, escaped, thanks to Raven's intervention. This is the reason for Steelhead being unique among the children of Salmon Woman."
The other totem shown in this same photo is of Salmon Woman and Her Children and depicts the tale of how the salmon came to the Indian People, explained as follows: "At the top of the pole is Raven, a leader of the Indian People who undertook a journey to find food for his suffering village during a time of great famine. He set out down the Nooksack River on this quest, but met only with disappointment. Despairing of both success and life, he encountered Salmon Woman, who lived in the water. Deeply moved by the story of his suffering people, Salmon Woman transformed herself into a human female and called her children: Chinook, Coho, Sockeye, Chum, Pink and Steelhead. She agreed to return with Raven to his village and give her children as a gift to his people in order that they would survive. The salmon designs on the pole are representations of these children. Unfortunately, disrespect was shown to Salmon Woman and her children, which led her to take them away for a time each year so that the people would remember to appreciate them. This story teaches that the salmon are a gift and the First Salmon Ceremony takes place every year as a reminder of the importance of the salmon to the Indian People and the need to respect and nurture this vital food source."

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