We’re all in this canoe together

The Coast Salish Gathering is a policy dialogue. The following are comments made by tribal leaders during the final day of the gathering:

Shawn Yanity, chairman of the Stillaguamish Tribe, spoke of the continued challenges managing the tribe’s hunting resources. The state defines hunting as a “sport,” it’s a difference in thinking and culture.

The relationship we have with the environment was given to us from our ancestors and the creator. They took those gifts and put them in our songs and put them in our language. We have a responsibility to take care of them because they sustain our life.”

The non-Indian world – they’ll write laws because they know what’s best for us. They will control it. That’s when we run into problems, when we don’t respect that gift.

I am  encouraged with the words that have been shared at the table. I hear of things we all  face. That imaginary line that’s divided our family. The governments have put that split between us.

This is an opportunity for us to come together, not because we’re forced to.

I was always told by my Uncle Lou that the day the salmon does not return to the river, we have a dead river. The life of that river is gone. Our South Fork Stillaguamish has an estimated run of 60 fish. A  lot of people don’t realize the effect that has on our relations in Canada. Stillaguamish chinook is one of the drivers that regulate the Canadian fishery.

Nolan Charles, Musqueam Nation, was asked to address the political strategies of Coast Salish tribes.

We have the foundation here, with representatives from Environment Canada, DFO, Ecology and EPA. We need to expand that and give them the direction to bring more people into this canoe. Bringing more people into the canoe will also bring more money. If we’re going to make this work politically, we need that support. We need human capacity and financial capacity but also political leaders within our own communities. Identify who our allies are and who are enemies are and win over our enemies.

Chief Ian Campbell, Squamish Nation, said that the western model isn’t sustainable.

“People have to be made accountable,” he said.”The degradation of our land and our resources is unacceptable.”

Elders used to have indicators like Dobie Tom described. Elders know it’s going to be a cold winter because bees are nesting in the ground. “Our elders are in tune with that,” he said.

Terry Williams, Tulalip Tribes, said a decision needs to be made whether we’re going to do something about climate change or not.

The Swinomish Tribe has done a great job with its Climate Change Initiative.

Tulalip is looking at the chemistry of marine waters and creating a carbon budget. A project is in the works to look at ocean acidification by building a greenhouse under water to grow seaweed, kelp and eel grass and measure the carbon and methane the plants absorb.

Tom Wooten of the Samish Tribe said his heart goes out to the first nations north of the border.

“The only way we’re going to be heard is to have one voice,” he said. “I’m going to bring my youth with me next time so they can hear all this and know they are part of this. All the issues are the same for all of us. I haven’t heard one person speak here that I can’t relate to their issues.”

Chief Dalton Silver, Sumas Nation:

I was thinking about some of the messages that were shared here. The words from the legal people, I think it’s really helpful, looking at the perspective from both sides of that border we had nothing to do with.

Crossing the border has become difficult for a lot of our people, especially when we travel to visit our families during the winter months to attend ceremonies.

I really am thankful that others stressed the importance of language. We talk about co-management agreements and really having a say in the agreements. It there is such an agreement, I think it would be good to have it interpreted and written in our language. There are things said in our language in so few words that can’t be misinterpreted. There are things you can write in the English language that can be interpreted in so many different ways by so many politicians and lawyers.

Jim Peters, Squaxin Island Tribe:

Even though we have state and provincial governments listening to these issues, and having experience with pretty good consultation with our federal agencies, being recognized government-to-government by the state government, having the benefits of some good court decisions in the past, and having documents from the state government respecting our rights – we’re still in a situation where our watershed and water quality is declining. As much as we can do as co-managers on the ground, of having the right science and traditional knowledge of those watersheds. Canadian brothers, you’ll find yourselves in that same situation even if the Canadian government recognizes all your rights, the resources will still be going down.

Everybody in this room isn’t talking about today. We’re talking about seven generations in the future. I know our agency friends that are here might not be able to grasp at that. I know my grandfather and his father were able to grasp that. They knew the decisions they were making back then were impacting me and future generations.

Darrell Phare, Lummi Nation:

We need to  realize the handicaps with which we try to do this work. The people that arrived here didn’t have the wisdom to recognize a system that was designed to remain forever. They saw untouched land.

The reason why our system would have lasted forever is that we were a part of everything and everything was a part of us. Even the concept of us being stewards of everything is a misconception. We are a part of everything. If we do our job and everything else does its job, the magic happens.

I appreciate Ecology, EPA, and your counterparts from Canada coming to listen. It shows an effort to understand why we are how we are. We’re stubborn people. We have a mission. We are blessed with a lot of people who are committed to our seventh generation.

This concept that came to us from the other side of the water that said man is above everything –  I don’t know where that came from.

I really admire this effort. This agreement to not recognize this border that separates our families.

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