Cindy Sue James fought cancer at UW Medicine/Northwest Hospital in Seattle, but despite her courage and perseverance, she lost her battle. To commemorate her bravery and the loving care those at the hospital provided her during her final days, her brother-in-law — totem pole carver David Boxley — created a new totem pole to stand at the hospital. It was raised earlier this year, replacing a 40-year-old pole that was largely held together by coats of paint.
At the base of the pole sits the depiction of Cindy, where she serves as a foundation for her people and the pole above. Contrary to many assumptions, the bottom of the totem pole is a coveted spot reserved for leaders and women as a symbol of their support of their communities. The rest of the totem includes tributes to the Tsimshian culture and the doctors and caregivers who give comfort.
David, a Tsimshian carver originally from the Southeast Alaskan village of Metlakatla, carved the totem pole in his Lynwood garage. His previous poles can be found at places including the Smithsonian Institution, Epcot at Disney World in Florida and the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage. In all, he has now carved more than 70 towering poles, making him one of the most active totem pole carvers alive.
Made of an old-growth Western red cedar, the completed pole stands at 27 feet tall, and native coastal people from Washington to Alaska attended its dedication ceremony this spring. The totem pole now serves as symbol of light intended to bring meaning to the suffering endured by those fighting cancer, and their families.