Op-Ed

Through the generations, treaty rights sustain Lummi Nation and protect resources

Darrell Hillaire’s great-grandfather was one of the 10 youth that Lummi Nation leaders took with them to Mukilteo to sign the Point Elliot Treaty with the United States government in 1855.
Darrell Hillaire’s great-grandfather was one of the 10 youth that Lummi Nation leaders took with them to Mukilteo to sign the Point Elliot Treaty with the United States government in 1855. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Editor’s note: Bellingham celebrates Coast Salish Day Monday, Oct. 10. The Bellingham Herald invited a representative of Lummi Nation to write about what it’s like to be Lummi today.

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It may surprise you that to be Lummi in 2016 isn’t that much different than living life as a Lummi in 1855.

The things our elders taught us when we were growing up were the same things that their elders taught them. And in many ways, our way of life is written into the treaty. The Lummi people have always stood for upholding treaty rights. In 1855, the Lummi people travelled to Mukilteo to sign the Point Elliot Treaty with the United States government. The Lummi leaders brought with them 10 Lummi youth, including my great-grandfather. At the treaty signing and every day since, those 10 Lummi youth were told, “don’t forget what was said at treaty signing.”

Our leaders knew that these 10 children were the future of our tribe and that the lessons they learned on that day, the day they signed the treaty, would be important to sustaining our people well into the future.

Protecting natural resources

Today we’re protecting the natural resources we value because, our “schelangen” or way of life is being threatened by continued development. By putting our treaty rights on the line, the federal, state and local governments have grown to understand the power of Article Six of the U.S. Constitution that says, “Treaties are the Supreme Law of the Land.” And, just as importantly, our relationship with Mother Earth feeds the spirit of our work. This too has been taught to us by our ancestors – to never forget our way of life.

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Darrell Hillaire’s play, “What about those promises?,” will be performed at Whatcom Community College on Oct. 14-15.

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We often remind ourselves and others that the power of tribal treaties is not grounded in the legal and technical understanding of treaties, but in the ancient belief in who we are as a people. This belief has been fought for in courts, in the halls of Congress, in social media and on the ground where homelands are threatened by inevitable development.

In 2016, we have won a battle at Cherry Point to protect our Lummi fishing grounds from what would have been the largest coal terminal in North America, and thousands of indigenous peoples and First Nations are standing with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. We are finally seeing recognition being given to treaty rights and rights that existed before the treaty. These rights are to hunt and to fish, and also to protect the sacred acts of the cycle of life – creating, dissolving and recreating life with Mother Earth.

Celebrate way of life

Recently, President Obama invited tribes to, “come to the table and tell me what a good process of consultation looks like.” I would invite the president to join Lummi to hunt, gather and celebrate with us and learn our way of life by doing. Learn the way of life that we have been practicing since the beginning of time. Touch the earth with us and travel the waters of the ancient ones and feed the people with us.

The connection of native peoples to our lands and resources creates a better understanding of a sovereign nation that has the legal right to make decisions about projects that affect its land, people and sacred sites.

As we explore and discover ways of working together, we face the real crisis of climate change that affects all people. We are facing a crisis of oil spills into our waters and coal dust on our reservations. Thankfully, treaties are an important way to create a healthier environment and protect what we still have. They are a reminder that we have an alternative to the mindless and heartless development that destroys our lands. Our true vision for the future, the future for all of us, lies in protecting our treaties to protect our way of life for our children, and our children’s children. Because living life as a Lummi today is a way of life we’ve practiced since life began.

Darrell Hillaire is a member of the Lummi Nation and former treasurer for the Lummi Indian Business Council.

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