Friday, April 20, 2007


An Honesty Rarely Found

In my home state of Washington, about 40 miles north of where I was born on Seattle's Elliott Bay, the Tulalip Indian Tribes are in the process of creating tribal laws to protect tribal cultural property guaranteed in perpetuity by the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott. As yet to be specifically delineated, these laws are intended to prevent annihilation of Tulalip culture by the destructive acts of individuals, businesses, and governments--on and off the Tulalip reservation. As an entity responsible for much of the damage done to tribal cultural property since the treaty, the State of Washington is a primary target of the proposed tribal legislation. To say that this assertion of indigenous property rights under federal and international law might cause a disturbance to entrenched powers is a considerable understatement. To acknowledge that this action was the inevitable consequence of both state and market neglect of these obligations requires an honesty rarely found in either sphere of influence.

As I write these words today, I recall the many battles fought by the dominant society that dishonored this treaty, as well as the traumatic cultural losses endured by the indigenous peoples of Puget Sound. Battles that have devastated the salmon, the orcas, the forests and streams. More importantly, battles that denied human dignity to the tribes of Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands, where in the 1970s I worked alongside Indian fishermen then attacked for asserting their aboriginal right to fish.

Having witnessed firsthand in the 1990s the malice mustered by the Building Industry Association of Washington against the modest and ultimately unenforceable environmental protection measures codified in the state's Growth Management Act, as well as the violent harassment by the vigilantes they hired to oppose endangered species protection and Indian treaties, my first recommendation to the governor, media, and church leaders is to make every effort to curb inflammatory rhetoric.

My second suggestion is that those in a position to inoculate populations vulnerable to manipulation by commercial interests team up with other popular educators post haste. You can bet the hatemongers of the BIAW and professional fearmongers at the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise are already planning and funding their attack.

With the well-documented history of anti-Indian aggression in Washington state, there's really no excuse for civic and moral leaders to remain silent or uninvolved. They either shoulder their responsibilities or they don't.


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