New totem pole rises at Northwest Hospital

A section of David Boxley's totem pole

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This past fall, 52-year-old Cindy Sue James lost a long battle with cancer. During the last weeks of her life, her close-knit family — members of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian tribes — came together in James’ Northwest Hospital room to talk, sing, laugh and reminisce. During these long conversations, the idea of a totem pole honoring her legacy and that of all cancer patients, survivors and caregivers, was born.

James’ brother-in-law is world-famous totem pole carver, David Boxley, master carver of the Pacific Northwest Coast Tsimshian Tribe. Boxley’s totems currently grace the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC; Epcot Center at Disney World in Orlando, FL; and the Alaskan Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, AK, among many other museums, tribal centers, public spaces and private homes.

Boxley’s totem pole for Northwest Hospital, called Eagle’s Spirit, will be carved from a single, 27-foot western red cedar log. It will feature an eagle, Cindy Sue James’ family crest; a figure representing the doctors, nurses and other caregivers who cared for James; a “medicine people” figure representing cancer patients past, present and future; the mythical figure of a mouse woman, the character James often danced as a member of the Git Hoan Dancers, Boxley’s Native Alaskan dance troupe; and, finally, a likeness of James, smiling and holding her grandson. The totem’s place of honor will be on a lawn next to the Medical Office Building, not far from the main entrance to the Northwest Hospital main campus.

The totem pole will be unveiled in a special ceremony at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 6, 2017. The event will include traditional tribal dances by the Git Hoan Dancers. The public is invited to attend.

“A unique and inspirational artwork like this totem pole serves not only as a memorial to a remarkable woman, but also as an essential part of Northwest Hospital’s healing environment for our patients and their families,” said Cindy Hecker, the hospital’s executive director. “We are grateful to David Boxley, Cindy Sue’s family, and our donors for making this beautiful gift possible.”

The totem pole is being supported entirely by private donations. To make a donation, visit and choose the “NWH Cindy Sue James Memorial Fund” or call 206-616-4926 for more information.

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