National Geographic Travel
Why is This Totem Pole Travelling Across America?
July 16, 2021
Indigenous people along North America’s Pacific Northwest coast have been carving and erecting totem poles for hundreds of years. But the poles—long used to commemorate ancestry, relay cultural values, or tell stories—rarely go on road trips.
That’s what happening this summer, as a 25-foot-long, 4,900-pound length of cedar travels from Washington State to Washington, D.C., aboard a jumbo tractor-trailer. Created by the Lummi people, who live near Bellingham, Washington, the richly decorated pole is meant to raise awareness about Indigenous issues and the need to protect sacred sites.
The two-week tour, dubbed the Red Road to D.C., will stop at endangered Indigenous sites including the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and the Standing Rock Reservation in the Dakotas. The totem pole will arrive in D.C. on July 29 and will be displayed in front of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) for two days; organizers hope to attract the attention of President Joseph Biden and find a permanent home for it in the nation’s capital.