“I, like my brother, am a First Nations carver in the heritage and tradition of my people and my family who have been carving in Seattle since at least 1926. We give the John T. Williams totem pole to the City of Seattle in the hope that it will be a symbol of peace and honor for many generations.” – Rick Williams (pictured above), brother to slain First Nations wood carver John T. Williams
A man fatally shot by a Seattle police officer after being ordered to drop a knife often had difficulty hearing and understanding what was said to him, say people who knew him.
Officer Ian Birk shot and killed John T. Williams in August 2010, when Birk saw Williams holding a knife as he walked near downtown Seattle. The shooting was declared unjustified by a review board. Birk later resigned from the force.
Williams was a member of the Ditidaht First Nation, also a member nation of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth. The Ditidaht First Nation is a small, remote community on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Williams was a celebrated, seventh-generation carver who at times sold his work to Ye Olde Curiosity Shop on the Seattle waterfront.
Alex Castas, general manager of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop on the Seattle waterfront, said his shop has been buying carvings from Williams’ family for five generations, stretching back to the 1880s, when the shop used to buy from tribal members paddling up in canoes.
“It was unbelievable that this would happen in this day and age,” said Les Sam, chief of the Tseshaht First Nation in the Alberni Valley on Vancouver Island. The Tseshaht are one of 14 member nations of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council.
The inquest process is all about putting the dead man/woman, in this case John T. Williams, on trial — a fundamental disrespect, as well as deprivation of due process. As the saying goes, “dead men tell no tales,” and in the inquest Ian Birk spread as many dubious ideas, inconsistencies, and stereotypes as he could about this dead Native man in hopes of saving his own skin. In this instance, however, the dead man does tell us all a story.
He tells us that his carving knife was never a threat — his small knife, contrary to Ian Birk, was not open. He tells us that he was not walking toward Ian Birk as Birk contended — he was shot in the side four times. Most importantly, John T. Williams reminds us of the lesson of Lord Amherst: Do not accept or even feign belief in this process; these people show absolutely no humanity or honesty when their own are threatened. Watch out for these men and women who shoot first and ask questions last — they do not have your best interests at heart.
The family and friends of William started to work on this pole about a year ago. Its design is a perched eagle, a mother raven and the figure of a woodcarver.
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.”
Although Nancy Williams, sister of John, carried a black flag bearing the message, “Stop police brutality,” she said she felt as if her brother were looking down on the crowd with a big smile, “telling us we did it.”
“It’s going to be a while before there’s any healing done. Especially with the way we lost John, there’s a long ways to go yet,” said Williams, 53, of Vancouver, B.C. “But today is about peace and honor.”
So instead of writing too much about it, I wanted to use what I shot in the format I’m most comfortable, to set pace with some quotes from articles that best (I thought) described the JTW story. In no way am I saying it’s the best stuff, but for the purpose of this post, I wanted to have my story brought in by fragments of the other writers. I believe like all things that happens in our society, whether good or bad, and in this case fucked up and plain out wrong, that everything is fragmented and hidden, and pieces are given to us by those in power to keep truth from really prevailing. The end all was this memorial. It will stand now in the presence of millions of visiting people to know that Seattle is not immune to any injustice handed down by our peace keepers. Ian Birk is a murderer of John T. Williams. A family and a community lost a loved one at the hands of a man who was pompous and arrogant in his work. He has since resigned so that is one less crooked cop BUT that also means that there is a “citizen” who is out on our streets who has taken a life without just cause. I have friends who are cops. I by no means am saying that they are bad. What I am saying is the system is fundamentally screwed and that some officers are being conditioned to carry on good ol boy tradition at the sake of the people they serve…whew…let me get *off my soapbox*
February 26 the totem was lifted. The community grieved together, prayed together, danced together.
Ask my wife, I LOVE BALD EAGLES! I used to get on my brothers jet ski and go on Lake Washington by myself to go through the lake and find bald eagles on the treetops. I’ve only seen a couple in the last 10 years in the city. The day of the memorial brought tears to many who noticed above. Right before the raising of the totem pole, HIGH above, four bald eagles flew right above us. I looked to the elder I was standing next to me, he said, “The ancestors are truly with us today friend. John would be happy that his life has brought this to come about. It erases all the lies that we have been told. We are not done, but we are protected.”
I used these folks below for their insights onto the JTW murder and Memorial.
Seattle Times: Lynda V. Mapes, Amy Martinez
Seattle PI: Casey Mcnerthney
SU Spectator: Bianca Sewake
Blackfeet Nation: Gyasi Ross
Here are some more shots from the totem procession that I have posted on other networks. Hope ya’ll dig the shots and post. RIP JTW. Hit me up on Instagram/ EyeEm/ Streamzoo/ Twitter at @bradpuet or on Google + at BP Juxt or on email at email@example.com. Peace.