Skip navigation

Healing Totem

The National Library Of Medicine Healing Totem

Travel to the Mt. Baker National Forest with Master Carver Jewell Praying Wolf James to experience the blessing ceremony for the Western Red Cedar that was used for the NLM Totem Pole.

Loading the video player ...

If the video player fails to load, please note that video playback requires JavaScript to be enabled, and either Adobe Flash Player or a browser which supports HTML5 video playback.

You can also download the video to watch it without Flash.

The totem outside the National Library of Medicine was designed and carved by master carver Jewell Praying Wolf James. From the time the tree left the forest in Washington State, to the Lummi Nation to be carved, and then traveling to its present site in the NLM Herb Garden it traveled 4,400 miles. Here, on the same campus where doctors and scientists dedicate their lives to solving the questions of medicine, it will fulfill its mission of symbolizing and promoting good health and healing.

The stories depicted on the totem use symbols of the sky (raven, sun, moon, stars, fire), the earth (bear, plants, habitat), water (ocean, river, moon cycles with tides), and the creative power and wisdom of women as leaders and healers. Totems display these symbols to awaken our awareness of the meaning and interconnectedness of life and the environment, and the collective knowledge of all races of humanity.

The bottom of the totem depicts a woman with a gathering basket. She represents the women who traditionally gathered plants and herbs to heal human illness.

The center portion of the totem is a tree, representing the Tree of Life and the forests that provide natural healing medicines. Nature is the first source of cures for human ailments.

The top of the totem pole depicts the Algonquin story of the Medicine Woman in the Moon. The moon is the protector and guardian of the earth by night.

The colors in the totem pole also have deep meaning:

  • Red is the color of blood, representing war or valor
  • Blue is for the skies and waters, including rivers and lakes
  • White is for the skies and spacious heavens
  • Yellow is the color of the sun, bringing light and happiness
  • Green is the earth with its hills, trees, and mountains
  • Black represents power.