City Council chambers were packed Monday morning, Oct. 12, as community members gathered to honor the city’s first Coast Salish Day.
“Some of you may know there’s a surge across America with cities recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” said the event’s emcee, Michael Vendiola, program supervisor for the Washington state Office of Native Education.
Vendiola recalled being in Berkeley, Calif., in 1992 when that city decided to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day on the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ landing in America.
Many cities around the country have officially opted to honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day, with Bellingham City Council unanimously joining them this year with the regionally specific Coast Salish Day. Washington state does not officially recognize Columbus Day.
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Vendiola thanked the Bellingham City Council for their leadership in trying to do their best to honor Coast Salish people. Council Member Roxanne Murphy brought the name change forward last fall and it was approved unanimously.
After Vendiola’s brief introduction, four witnesses were called to the front of the room to remember the day in the Coast Salish tradition. They were: Aaron Thomas, member of Lummi Nation; Qwe’shi’mut, member of Lummi Nation; Hamilton Seymour, member of Nooksack Indian Tribe; and Beth Brownfield, who has helped facilitate classes to teach the community about local tribes.
Each was given a blanket, wrapped over their left shoulder to “warm their heart and help them remember what happens here today,” Vendiola said.
“It just feels good to know our people are finally being lifted up in such a way,” Qwe’shi’mut said during the morning’s speeches. “Our people have lived here for thousands of years. ... So we thank you once again for the acknowledgment. We thank you for your support.”
A group of his family members, Ngen’tse Ste’ky’e, or Pack of Wolves, sang and played drums twice during the ceremony as the crowd stood, offered applause and raised their hands.
Renaming Indian Street
In addition to honoring Coast Salish Day, council member Terry Bornemann announced that the city will officially change Indian Street to Billy Frank Jr. Street in November, after months of working with residents along that street to finalize a process started in June.
Bornemann told the crowd that a few years ago, someone asked if the city would name a street in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. A few weeks later, he said, an African-American woman pointed out to them that local civil rights issues had a lot more to do with first nations and tribes.
“It got me thinking she was very right,” Bornemann said. “It is more appropriate to name a street in honor of Coast Salish people.”
He brought the idea to council and recommended they honor the late Billy Frank, Jr., an activist who fought tirelessly for tribal fishing rights during the Fish Wars of the 1960s and ’70s.
“He has a tremendous history, was a tremendous man and has done so much for this region,” Bornemann said.
Members of Frank’s family could not attend. Candice Wilson, a member of Lummi Nation, spoke in their honor.
“He was an honorable man, a true warrior in his own right,” Wilson said. “This is an honorable moment for the family. We thank you, the city of Bellingham, for naming this street after him.”
Video of the celebration will be available soon on the city’s YouTube page at YouTube.com/user/CityofBhamWa.