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Totem was intended to be 'a part of the tribal culture,' but vandals left their mark

The City of Bellingham removed a totem pole that used to stand along the Whatcom Creek Trail after vandals tagged it. The hope is to have the original carvers restore the totem, which was given to the city by the Lummi Culture Commission.
The City of Bellingham removed a totem pole that used to stand along the Whatcom Creek Trail after vandals tagged it. The hope is to have the original carvers restore the totem, which was given to the city by the Lummi Culture Commission. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Though the City of Bellingham says it was removed over the winter, it took the sun coming out more regularly and the weather to get warmer for hikers to start noticing that a totem pole was missing from along the Whatcom Creek Trail.

City of Bellingham Program Specialist Shannon Taysi said she's fielded a couple of phone calls on the missing totem, which stood approximately 15 feet tall and was carved out of western red cedar, and there have been some social media posts about it.

The totem, which used to stand along the trail near Racine Street, was removed after it was vandalized, including "major tagging," Taysi said. The totem now waits in storage, along with a couple of wooden benches that used to accompany it that have deteriorated in the Pacific Northwest weather.

The hope, Taysi said, is to contact the original carver to attempt to restore the totem and return it to its place along the trail. At this point, she said she hasn't heard back and doesn't have an estimate on the cost or the time it will take to restore the totem.

"We haven't been able to talk to anyone at Lummi House of Tears about it, yet," Taysi said. "I want to explain the extent of the damage and have them come out and assess what it will take to get it restored."

Jewell James of House of Tears Carvers was the original head carver of the totem and worked with adult and student artists on the project, while Ramona James was the head painter, according to project documents from 2006 between the city and the Lummi Culture Commission.

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The City of Bellingham removed a totem pole that used to stand along the Whatcom Creek Trail after vandals tagged it. The hope is to have the original carvers restore the totem, which was given to the city by the Lummi Culture Commission. Staff The Bellingham Herald


The original bid for the entire memorial was $27,000, according to the documents, though Taysi said it was a gift to the City of Bellingham. According to the documents, it was intended to be "a part of the tribal culture, a part of the story of conservation that advocates the protection and preservation of the creek and salmon habitat and salmon populations."

The totem, which was unveiled in 2017, and two benches commemorated the lives of Liam Wood, 18, Wade King and Stephen Tsiorvas, both 10, who died June 10, 1999, when 277,200 gallons of gasoline spilled into Whatcom Creek from a ruptured Olympic Pipe Line Co. fuel line and ignited, scorching a mile and a half of area down the creek.

Taysi said she was unsure of the budget the city would have for the restoration project.

"Our top priority is to get the totem restored to its original state, and then we'll see if there is enough left to make some new benches," she said.

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