Coastal Salish people gather at Tulalip

Published on Thu, Mar 20, 2008 by Steve Robinson

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Coastal Salish people gather at Tulalip

By Steve Robinson

Hundreds of Coast Salish People gathered in the homelands of the Tulalip Tribes in western Washington April 26 through 29 for the third annual Coast Salish Gathering. 

We came together to share our environmental concerns and to develop and recommend policy and actions with the federal, state and provincial governing agencies.  Our voices carried through the waters and lands, ensuring our ancestors we were practicing our sacred responsibilities of protecting our Mother Earth.

Our ancestors have passed down the traditional teachings of songs, dances, and spiritual ceremonies that depict our identity and strengths of our peoples. Our sacred trust has been given to us from our ancestors and defines our role as protectors of our Mother Earth. We are entrusted with the protection and sustainability of environment and natural resources of our ancestral lands and waters of the Salish Sea.

Over the decades our lands and waters have been severely impacted by pollution that affects our culture, food, health, and economy. Most importantly hurting our elders who have relied on these since the beginning of time and threatening the life ways of our children’s future.

With that, the theme of this year’s gathering, “Our Way,” may sound simple, but its meaning has very deep roots.

“Our way is to be family,” said Brian Cladoosby, chair of the Swinomish Tribe and co-chair of the gathering, “The border put between these countries was put there by the white man, not us. Our environment, our families and our history extend way beyond that line, so today we choose not to acknowledge it.”

The significance of the Gathering was clearly evident in the number of prestigious Coast Salish tribal chairs, council members, traditional chiefs and other attendees who were joined by federal officials of Environment Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, provincial and state officials from the British Columbia Ministry of the Environment and the Puget Sound Partnership.

The primary goal of the Gathering is to unite tribal and non-tribal efforts in with environmental issues affecting the Salish Sea area.
The Salish Sea encompasses the Puget Sound and Northwest coastal waters extending north past Vancouver Island.

“Our children and our grandchildren will benefit from the planning for the future we do here today,” said Chairman Mel Sheldon of the Tulalip Tribes, hosts of the gathering. “Long after we are gone our environment and culture will benefit, and the salmon will run strong again.”

Tom Sampson of the Tslarlip Nation of British Columbia, Canada, co-chair of the gathering, said, “We bring our people together so we know who we are and so we can talk to one another again. We open our hearts, spirits and minds so we can rekindle the legacies of our ancestors.

It is our duty to utilize the teachings that have been handed down to us through thousands of years. Let us honor the teachings of those who made it possible for us to be here.”

“The greatest success we will ever achieve, the greatest treasure we will ever possess will be when our grandchildren speak the languages, sing the songs and dance the dances of a thousand generations,” said Campbell.

“To achieve these successes, we have to speak with one voice and help people understand the connection between the fish in the river and the quality of their lives,” said Billy Frank, Jr., Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. “If we allow non-Indian society to continue destroying the environment without a fight, it’s over.”

“With one voice we can say to the non-Indian people and governments that we want to work with them,” said Cladoosby. “We have got to educate, educate, educate. If we stand together, we will be heard.”

Bernie Gobin, Tulalip tribal elder, emphasized the need to acknowledge the treaties. “Without them Indians here would have nothing. But these contracts with the federal government are living proof that our forefathers held onto those things that are most sacred to us.

Not only do we have the right to harvest fish and hunt, we own these resources, as well as the water that sustains them. We have never relinquished these things.”

Sheldon said, “We are inextricably tied together by the salmon. When I was young, we were able to sustain ourselves by fishing. Not anymore. Today we only get a few days of fishing with little to show for the effort. That must change. We will take control of our destiny.”
Tuesday’s agenda included discussion and action on the Coast Salish Gathering Environmental Action Plan, addressing toxics in traditional foods, water quality and quantity and climate change impacts. It also included joint statements of cooperation by EPA and Environment Canada officials and an update on the Environmental Cooperative Council. The session wraps up Friday at noon, following a confirmation of action recommendations. For more information, contact Steve Robinson, Coast Salish Gathering Press Coordinator, at srobinson@nwifc.org