“In our different excursions, particularly those in the neighborhood of Port Discovery, the skulls, limbs, ribs, and backbones, or some other vestiges of the human body, were found in many places promiscuously scattered about the beach, in great numbers. Similar relics were also frequently met with during our survey in the boats; and I was informed by the officers, that in their several perambulations, the like appearances had presented themselves so repeatedly, and in such abundance, as to produce an idea that the environs of Port Discovery were a general cemetery for the whole of the surrounding country. Notwithstanding, these circumstances do not amount to a direct proof of the extensive population they indicate, yet, when combined with other appearances, they warranted an opinion, that at no very remote period this country had been far more populous than at present.” - From the Journal of Captain George Vancouver - 1793
= = =
“The Port of Bellingham is paying the Lummi Nation a measly $50k, with some boat parking perks, to NOT voice their opinions about the future of Bellingham Bay?” I inquire of Tip Johnson. I fear I am screeching.
“Yes, that's right. You should read my article," Tip replies, and then he sighs.
Now I know I am screeching and don't care. I ask Tip, “Bellingham proves racist once again! How insulting! Why not pay them, based on their superior record and advanced knowledge of the region, to design and supervise the project of making Bellingham Bay good habitat for all? How about honoring the Lummi instead of rudely shutting them up?"
“You know, the first consultants the Port hired for the waterfront development - the world's preeminent experts - were excited to recommend featuring our region's First Nations heritage as the major theme and closely involve them in the project's design. That, and their other recommendations, were summarily discarded for the Port's preconceived goal of building a new marina and selling the waterfront off for condominiums,” he says.
Puget Sound waters, still and shining, like silver blue glass today. The islands along the horizon, deep blue purple. The beach at Birch Bay State Park appears silver and white sanded in this light. The late afternoon sky sings partly cloudy, sometimes sunny songs for hundreds of colorfully dressed people. All sorts of humans camp, picnic, and mill about, waiting for the tribal boats with their crews to arrive. They are rowing to Pow Wow like their ancestors. We gather to witness and celebrate them and celebrate with them.
The Lummi people have inhabited this beautiful land for 12,000 years. Contact and trade with Europeans (Spanish, Russian, British, and USAers) happened in their most recent history, within the last 200 years. The Lummi were attacked and conquered by settlers, but never completely wiped out. USAers, particularly, hoped to exterminate all the Indian cultures completely. We declared war on them and stole their lands. We called it the Indian Wars. It was genocide. We pushed Christianity. We sent their children to dreary boarding schools, changed their names and outlawed their potlatch economy. Tourists from around the world visit us and witness how we still outcast "them" and we all see how our leaders still seemingly wish the Lummis would simply go away.
Yet just a few generations ago, from the Chuckanuts all the way to where I am standing here at Birch Bay, out to Orcas Island and San Juan Island, all the way to Vancouver Island - were the lands and waters of the Lummis. They harvested wild salmon and shell fish from their farms. They had various sacred places they would travel to seasonally for wonderful gatherings. They were very, very rich. Their glorious diet of fresh salmon, clams, crab, duck, elk, deer - accented with fresh and dried berries and lots of native gourmet mushrooms and greens - was served up in an atmosphere of friendliness, creativity, hospitality - surrounded by the most beautiful scenery in the world.
The Lummi never did us any harm. The few Lummis who survived smallpox (1000 or so) welcomed the Spanish, Russian, British and American explorers - actually welcomed us - and traded with us. Chief Cha-wit-zit not only allowed Roeder and Peabody to build a mill at Whatcom Creek, he offered them strong and able workers - these workers, though prosperous, were happy to help, to teach and learn new skills. The Lummi never did us any harm. They never have.
Several boats and crews made shore long before I got here. Three of the tribal boats sit on the logs and sand, high on the beach. Dark brown and black - in this silvery light - one has painting on its bow and stern. An orca? I also see a boat resting, barely out of the water, after a long hard run. This boat is suddenly surrounded by the bone-tired, yet elated crew who pick it up, sharing the weight, and carry it away from possible harm. The crew then disappears into various picnics and RVs. Clearly their kith and kin are journeying with them – doing the road trip - welcoming the rowers at every landing, mixing with local tribal friends and the crowds of non-Indian admirers, like me.
Looking round, I realize the ancestors of over half the people around me came from Europe, a couple from Asia and Africa too. I feel happy we all made it here to welcome fellow travelers in this ancient way.
Two years before Dirty Dan Harris rowed into Bellingham Bay and settled Fairhaven in 1855, the Lummi tribe signed the Treaty of Point Elliot. Lummi, Nooksack, Samish and Semiahmoo were given the same reservation - and the Nooksack don't even speak the same sort of language as the Lummi. They were interned on land that floods a lot. Then in 1857, a warring tribe from B.C. launched a surprise attack on the Lummi at their Orcas Island summer camp. Where? At Massacre Bay, Skull Island and Victim Island. This further depleted their population, but still didn't totally eliminate them. So we cut them out of the salmon industry and so forth. By 1904, there were only 435 Lummi remaining.
”Look, another boat coming in.” I overhear an Irish-looking, red-headed guy with a fancy camera announce excitedly. He reminds me of the red-headed Pow Wow tourist in the movie “Dreamkeeper” who seems a bit silly in the way he is looking for "connection." But hey, so am I, I remind myself, I'm looking for connection to this land and these people whose ancestors were wiser and kinder than mine - and this is a good thing. The Lummi and other Pacific Northwest tribes want us to witness these events, they welcome fellow Pacific Northwesterners and regional visitors to Pow Wows and celebrations. Everyone is invited. Honoring the invitation honors the host. These events bind us together as Pacific Northwesterners, dedicated to protecting this wondrous region from further ecological, economical, and racial exploitation.
Ahhhhh, I see a white boat gliding over the ice blue, mirror bright sea. A lovely animal, a Puget Sound sea dragon, with many legs that paddle as one. The boat, smaller than the others, circles Birch Bay displaying it's intense beauty for us.
Imagine how sore those humble rowers in that pretty white boat must be, rowing for many hours everyday. I see them now, men and women of various ages, regular people in modern casual clothes, arriving in a dreamy, white-light filled ancient boat. A man in it stands up and formally announces from where the boat hails and who is rowing in it. He asks if they can visit - and they are formally welcomed to the Land of the Lummi, same way it has been down through the centuries, the millenia.
We all proudly welcome them ashore.
But amidst this congenial, multi-cultural atmosphere, racism still charges present day Bellingham.
Thankfully, Sikhs have returned to Whatcom County in recent years, because after what happened to them in 1906, on Forest Street, in the blocks south of the Community Food Coop's modern location - we deserve to be badmouthed, boycotted and shunned by them forever. In 2006, the Bellingham Herald apologized to Sikhs beautifully for the newspaper's role in that dark moment of Belllingham's short history. I watched, via the internet, how Sikhs (an estimated population of 20 millions) read that apology, and how healing it was, globally.
Now, Bellingham citizens wait for a monument to honor Sikhs and to help us remember the horrible scene on that horrible day.
Meanwhile, what about the treatment our Chinese neighbors received in this town? Is there a monument here where I can cry about that? Somewhere I can place a flower? Or read some true stories about real people, with real names, stories, and regional accomplishments we haven't yet wished to include in our history books?
At least those atrocities happened in our great grandparents times. They weren't our fault. Right?
What about this "agreement" the Port of Bellingham just made with the Lummi - in secret? Do you wish Bellingham to go down in the-history-of-our-own-times for paying the Lummi such a humble amount to be mute, cause no trouble, have no say in the future of Bellingham Bay?
What can we do? What can we do?