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Orca totem's journey highlights push for dam removal

Brian Bull
A killer whale totem pole - with rider and salmon - sits outside the EMU on the University of Oregon's campus.

A 16-ft. long killer whale totem pole is traveling through the upper Pacific Northwest. It’s to raise awareness of Indigenous peoples’ calls to remove four federal dams from the Snake River.

Through May, the carving is traveling through Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, including stops with Native American tribes.

The pole is at the University of Oregon until Sunday, before heading out to Astoria.

Brian Bull
@2022, KLCC.
Lummi master carver James Jewell stands with the orca totem at its stop in Eugene, Oregon.

Jewell James is the Lummi master carver accompanying the pole. He says the dams interfere with salmon migration, which in turn disrupts the feeding cycles of killer whales.

“We’re hoping that we’re tapping into the mind and the conscience of the observers, that we’re awakening them to the need to stand up and give voice,” James told KLCC.

“Our congressmen, they have the power to say, ‘Okay, remove the dams. Let’s take a vote.’ And the only way they’re gonna ever support that, is if the people speak out.”

Dam supporters - largely Republican lawmakers – argue the dams provide hydropower, as well as irrigation and river navigation.

The orca totem shows salmon and a human extending its arms in apreciation, as well as a calf resting on its nose. James says that represents Tahlequah, a killer whale that carried its dead newborn for over a thousand miles in an apparent sign of mourning.

Copyright @2022, KLCC.

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. In his 25+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (19 regional), the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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