Thursday, April 25, 2013

Native Americans fight to protect sacred burial grounds

By Valery Jorgensen, News Writer
An evening of stories and history from two members of the Lummi tribe taught students why a treaty is so important to the Lummi people.

The speakers visited for the Sacred Sites and Coal Mounds event on Monday night, presenting in the Chris Knutzen Hall of the Anderson University Center.

A proposal for 1,000 foot long ships, equivalent to three football fields in length, to travel through a 10-mile wide path is being pushed into effect.

This path cuts through the fishing grounds of the Lummi tribe, which is located in the San Juan Islands near Bellingham, Wash. and Canada. It would also displace the Lummi’s sacred burial grounds, some of which contain human remains up to 3,000 years old.

A so-called ‘enemies list,’ or people supporting the proposal, includes Pacific International Terminals, SSA Marine, Carrix, Goldman Sachs, Berkshire Hathaway, Burlington Northern and Peabody Coal.

This area is also filled with salmon and humpback whales and the Lummi, being fishermen by trade, rely on these sea animals to support themselves. Ships from these companies going through this area may cause them to leave, taking away the Lummi’s livelihood.

The Lummi are also going to lose the ability to longline fish — when a fisherman has baited hooks at different intervals along the line. These lines will get caught in the massive ships making their way through the passages. The massive ships may also pull up Lummi crab pots left in the water.

"The water is sacred for many reasons," Jay Julius, one of the guest speakers, said.

He said fishing is the Lummi’s culture and their way of life. His grandfather taught his father, his father taught him and now he is teaching his children.

"I’m a believer. I’m a fisherman," Julius said. Julius told the audience this because he said he didn’t know what listeners’ perceptions of Native Americans were. "I’m just a normal person," Julius said.

"Hearing them talk on a personal level really connected me to what they are going through, as opposed to just the science of the matter," sophomore Katie Patton said.

For the listeners to understand why the treaty means so much to the Lummi, the speakers gave them a history lesson, on when the Lummi and the U.S. government signed the treaty in 1885.

Julius then continued with a story from 1900, when his great-grandmother had paddled out to Orcas Island where many of the Lummi had buried their deceased tribe members.

When a new development threatened the human remains, Lummi members dug the bodies up late at night and reburied them in a different place where they thought their ancestors would be able to rest safely.

The proposed port, however, will force the Lummi to move their ancestors’ sacred remains once more - if the tribe members are even given the opportunity to move them before the land is bulldozed over.

Julius also explained the Boldt Decision, legislation that supports the treaty, giving Washington state tribes the right to fish. "Fish is our culture, and our culture is fish," Julius said. "It is who we are and it is where my people practiced our culture."

Julius said he and Jewell James, the other representative of the Lummi tribe, didn’t tell the challenging history to "seek sympathy" but rather, to "paint a picture so you can see how this is sacred to us."

"It is our Jerusalem, our sacred grounds," Julius said.

To save the Lummi land, Julius said people need to be made aware of the situation. "Showing up counts. Showing up opens doors. Hopefully these doors will not close soon," Julius said.

Julius said students can help spread the word and "stand up and awaken campuses," by educating themselves and making a good, sound decision.

Sophomore Gavin Miller said he came to the event to "learn about a local issue that directly impacts the environment of the Pacific Northwest."

Patton said she is "excited to see what happens with this situation in the future."