Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Making Amends

Few of us reach middle age without wishing we'd had another chance to put things right with someone we aggrieved through unkind behavior. Often times, this perspective comes too late. Sometimes, though, the opportunity to make amends presents itself in unexpected ways, without our even realizing the need having been long forgotten.

When I was 21, I was arrested by tribal fisheries patrol officers for unlicensed fish-buying on an Indian reservation. Feeling unduly hampered in my occupation, and encouraged by my renegade Indian friends, I said regretful things while being escorted from my vessel to the jail.

As things would have it, this was the summer of the federal ruling on treaty fishing rights, and the local newspaper chose to make me a martyr of the Indian Wars, then led by Washington Attorney General Slade Gorton. Nothing was further from my sentiments, but this was soon forgotten as I became employed elsewhere.

Twenty years later, managing environmental litigation and publishing research on the Anti-Indian, Wise Use Movement, I accompanied my friend who was invited to speak by the same tribe that arrested me as a young man at a gathering opposing Indian health and education cuts proposed by the then infamous U.S. Senator Slade Gorton. When we arrived, a Lummi elder was praying for the spiritual growth of the senator, and I was suddenly transported back in time to the day when this gentle giant of a man was a fisheries officer and I a headstrong young vessel captain.

I briefly recounted this long forgotten relationship while introducing him to my friend, and then left to provide some vital documents to the tribal attorney for use in our mutual fight against vigilantes then mustering to the recurrent call of white supremacism.

Six years later, while residing and attending graduate school in San Francisco, I was invited to join colleagues in Washington to honor our friend who did the Wise Use research at a human rights awards ceremony. When I arrived, I saw on the program that Cha da ska dum Which ta lum, the Lummi elder (and former fisheries officer) was being honored posthumously for promoting peace and reconciliation between settler and indigenous cultures throughout the Americas.

After the ceremony, I informed his brother that a story Cha da ska dum told me a few years back was a gift that sealed the bargain in our unanticipated reconciliation. Only now do I realize that it has also stood me in good stead in terms of comprehending the reconciliatory challenges ahead for our society.

With healing comes obligation, sometimes disguised as love.

--Jay Taber


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