Family and friends raised a memorial to John T. Williams at Seattle Center after carrying the 34-foot totem pole through downtown Sunday
By Amy Martinez
The event, which occurred on the eve of what would have been Williams' 52nd birthday, followed Native tradition, with the pole carried to its final destination amid singing and dancing to drums.
"To me, it was a healing and a blessing," said Roger Miller, 48, who traveled from his home on the Muckleshoot reservation to carry the pole. "We stopped here and there, but we had determination."
Williams, a First Nations woodcarver, was fatally shot by Seattle police Officer Ian Birk in August 2010 when Birk saw him walking with a knife near downtown.
Birk later resigned from the force after a review board found the shooting unjustified.
By Richard Walker
Through it all, Williams’s brother, Rick, was a standard-bearer for peace. He devoted his time to creating a monument to his brother that will, after the players in this drama are long gone, tell of what happened in Seattle in 2010, how an injustice brought people together. “Anger doesn’t serve anything,” Williams said one chilly December morning on the Seattle waterfront. “They took something beautiful from my family. I want to give something beautiful back.”
The John T. Williams Totem Pole Project features the main totem pole that was carried from Waterfront Park to Seattle Center and raised at a spot between the Space Needle and the Experience Music Project. Jay Westwind Wolf Hollingsworth, Mohegan, chairman of the project organizing committee, said a minimum of 64 people will be needed to carry the pole; according to the Seattle Times, 90 people lent a hand on Sunday. Some of the volunteers carried stands that the pole could be set on during rest periods, and helped raise the pole using ropes. According to Williams, ten chiefs had committed to attend. A second memorial pole carved by Williams family members and others will be erected later at Seattle’s Victor Steinbrueck Park, northwest of the famous Pike Place Market; a third pole will be erected at a site yet to be determined.
John T. Williams was intimately familiar with the streets his poles will loom over. His ancestors were too; his family has been in the Seattle area since the early 1900s, Rick Williams said. It’s fitting that the Native imagery of the main pole was be carried down these streets, home to Native peoples now and since time immemorial, a history and a future that cannot be erased with a bullet.
Below: Space Needle and Memorial Totem Pole. (Victor Pascual/DigitalNavajo.com)