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Healing Totem Makes Cross-Country Trip to National Library of Medicine

Journey Precedes "Native Voices" Exhibition; Increases Health Awareness


A totem pole carved with stories of healing, hope, and knowledge is headed to the National Library of Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The healing totem will be one of the artistic, educational, and inspirational elements in the Library's new exhibition, "Native Voices: Native Peoples' Concepts of Health and Illness." The free exhibition opens to the public October 6, 2011.

The totem, created in Washington state, will begin a special cross-country trip to the Library on September 13. A ceremony to bless the totem will be held September 13 from 11 a.m.-noon in the Fisher Pavilion at the Seattle Center in downtown Seattle. The National Library of Medicine, the University of Washington Libraries, and the Native American Land Conservancy are co-sponsoring the event.  Jewell Praying Wolf James, the totem's creator, will be the featured speaker.

After the ceremony, the totem will travel across the country and be blessed by numerous Indian tribes along the way. The journey will last three weeks, cover 4,400 miles, and touch a dozen states. The Library hopes this journey will increase awareness of good health and health information resources.

The "Native Voices" exhibition will examine Native concepts of health and illness and show how those concepts are closely tied to community, spirit and the land. As the exhibition title suggests, visitors will experience the views, vision, and diversity of Native people through their own words and expression-be it a heartfelt interview accessed through the exhibition's interactive media-or stories carved into the healing totem.

"The exhibition honors the Native tradition of oral history and builds a unique collection of information that will enhance the understanding of healing and medicine, and the health issues affecting Native communities," explains Donald A.B. Lindberg, MD, director of the National Library of Medicine. "This is in keeping with the Library's mission of collecting, organizing, and preserving medical information to improve public health. We're excited to open this exhibition and to do it during the year the Library celebrates its 175th anniversary."

About the totem

The Library commissioned master carver Jewell Praying Wolf James of the Lummi Indian Nation near Bellingham, Washington to create the totem. It is his vision, his voice and the voice of his people as the totem holds stories of his tribe and of the Algonquin Nation. The top of the totem, for example, tells the Algonquin story of the Medicine Woman in the Moon, which teaches us to appreciate and protect our knowledge, and to recognize that some questions may take a long time to be answered. James carved the 20-foot totem from a 500-year-old red cedar, legally harvested from a forest near the Lummi Nation Reservation. When all is said and done, the process from selecting the tree to installing the totem at the Library, will have taken about one year.

About the journey

On September 12, the day before the journey launch, the Lummi Nation that produced the totem will hold a blessing ceremony. People will gather at 10 a.m. at Semiahmoo Park, Cannery Lodge in Semiahmoo, Washington (near Blaine). The totem, loaded onto a flatbed truck, will be transported to Seattle and then across the country from one blessing ceremony to the next.

After the two events in Washington state, blessing ceremonies will be held in Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, Connecticut, and finally Maryland.

The National Library of Medicine is sponsoring the journey in collaboration with the Native American Land Conservancy, a 501c3 intertribal organization dedicated to the preservation of Native American ancestral knowledge and the protective management of endangered Native American sacred sites and areas.

About the artist

Jewell Praying Wolf James is a lineal nephew of Chief Seattle, for whom the city of Seattle, Washington is named. He is the head carver for the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation. His previous work includes healing totems to honor the victims of the September 11th attacks at each of the 9/11 locations and to bring healing to the American Nation.  Those totems are now installed in Arrow Park in New York, in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC.

To get the latest on the totem's route and event schedule, or to read more about James and the totem, please visit the Library's healing totem blog, (   

About the exhibition, "Native Voices: Native Peoples' Concepts of Health and Illness"

The "Native Voices" exhibition will examine concepts of health and medicine among contemporary American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. The exhibition will feature interviews and works of art from Native people living on reservations, in tribal villages, and cities. Individual stories will show how epidemics, government policies, the loss of land and the inhibition of Native culture impact the health of people and communities. The exhibition also will present contemporary stories of renaissance, recovery and self-determination. An online version of "Native Voices" is being planned, along with a version displayed on banners that will travel around the country.

About the National Library of Medicine

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) is the world's largest biomedical library and the producer of online information resources used by millions of people around the world every day. Since its founding in 1836, the Library has changed the way scientific and medical information is organized, stored, accessed, and disseminated. NLM is committed to providing access to biomedical information anytime, anywhere--for scientists, health professionals and the public.

The Library's vast collection of free, online information contains material on Native health including:



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