By Jon King /

A group of Native American artisans are carrying a 25-foot carved totem pole from Washington state to Washington, D.C., and made their final stop Tuesday in Mackinaw City.

The Lummi Nation group, called the House of Tears Carvers, is raising awareness about the need to protect sacred sites at risk from development and natural-resource extraction.

On Tuesday, they held a blessing ceremony at Michilimackinac State Park. The group has targeted the Line 5 dual pipelines that run under the Straits of Mackinac, which they say have spilled more than a million gallons of oil into the surrounding waters over 50 years.

Whitney Gravelle, executive council president of the Bay Mills Indian Community, said more than half of Bay Mills citizens rely on the Straits of Mackinac for commercial and subsistence fishing.

"Our Anishinaabe teachings, our creation stories, our history here are all tied to the Straits area," Gravelle explained. "It is literally one of the centerpieces for cultural contact and interaction for thousands of years."

Gravelle argued treaty rights are put at risk by the Line 5 pipelines. Bay Mills Indian Community, as a signatory of the 1836 Treaty of Washington, reserves the right to fish, hunt and gather in the Straits of Mackinac and the surrounding region.

She says her community has been engaged in efforts for years against the pipelines, both in legislative and policy arenas, as well as through activism.

"Our tribal citizens have been extremely active and involved in these grassroots organized movements in order to raise awareness," Gravelle recounted. "Not only about Line 5, but on the numerous effects that we're seeing from climate change, pollution or other environmental degradation across the state of Michigan."

Gravelle added the Straits of Mackinac also have great historical value. There are terrestrial and bottomland archeological sites, submerged paleo landscapes, cemeteries and isolated human burials.

Photo: House of Tears Carvers

Public News Service contributed to this report.