Friday, October 07, 2005


Full Circle

One of the reasons for the continuity of white supremacism I linked to in my previous post Endangered Species, is the sheer presence of Indians throughout the state of Washington. (I seem to recall their reservations make up something like ten percent of the landscape.) I myself was born on Duwamish land, grew up on Yakama territory, and lived as an adult on Lummi and Samish turf.

Perhaps I was unusual, but I remember always being cognizant of a simultaneous Indian-Caucasian conflict and coexistence at play; sometimes dramatized over dam-building on the Snake and Columbia rivers, other times over water withdrawals in the Yakima or Nooksack, often over white-controlled real estate within reservations, and frequently over fishing and hunting rights.

But one aspect of this ongoing struggle between the indigenous and the settlers in my home state, that continues to fascinate me, is what Dr.Ryser at the Center for World Indigenous Studies called "the politics of land and bigotry." By this I mean the organized violence and racism involved in trying to extinguish the "right to exist" as my Lummi constitutional scholar friend Jewell Praying Wolf James once put it--the right to self-government and self-determination in living their way of life as promised by the US government in the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliot.

So when I read yesterday that back in the summer of 1999, while I was living in southwest Ireland, the Snoqualmie Indians of Washington had finally been recognized as a tribe, enabling its one thousand members to finally enjoy the benefits of that treaty, I was not surprised to learn that not only they, but also the Duwamish and Snohomish--all signatory tribes to the treaty--had been for one hundred and fifty years, told they did not exist. Looking at a map of Puget Sound, one can easily see that these same tribes historically occupied the lands now known as the greater metropolitan area of Seattle, and the timbered mountains and valleys nearby that made the Weyerhauser and Bullitt families so wealthy.

I suppose, in a way, it's all relative: the Yakama got to be host to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation; the Spokane got the uranium mines and lost all their salmon. But something that was not lost--despite the best attempts of the state and federal governments and associated vigilantes--was the sense of identity and history and entitlement to be treated with dignity and respect. And so it was with great pleasure I discovered that the descendants of the Snoqualmie chief Pat Kanim, the signator of the treaty at Mukilteo, are still leaders of the Snoqualmie people. And not just because of this continuity and belated, partial justice alone, but also because now I know something important and special about Swil Kanim, the renowned Lummi violinist I once met, who--as a friend of Sherman Alexie, the celebrated Spokane writer and filmmaker--played a role in one of his films, and now uses his notoriety to engage white audiences with both his beautiful music and his peoples' stories.

Perhaps in time we will be able to see the bedrock nations still present within the superficial continental administrative overlay of states and counties and provinces and jurisdictions that lend support to the notions of dominance enforced by law and prejudice in our countries. For now it is enough to end the extermination.

Read more about this.


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