In less than 3 weeks we will know whether the Whatcom Chief, our brave little ferry, will be taking us on an hour long journey through dangerous waters when we go to the mainland. For more than 100 years it has been making a 5 minute trip across Hales Passage to the Lummi Reservation. Now the tribe says that must stop. Today the ferry made a trial run on the hour long voyage to Fairhaven, to try docking there, “weather permitting.”
Weather permitted. The sun shone, the sky was blue , the water lay calm and still. The ferry is back now, chugging back and forth across Hales Passage.
Everyone who lives here knows that it will be devastating to this small island if we no longer have easy access to the mainland. People are laying in food supplies, those with children in school are contemplating renting an apartments in town so their kids can keep going to school. (We have an elementary school on the island, but beyond that kids are bussed to the mainland.) Jerry and I are thinking that we may have to get a condo or a house in town for use when we have medical appointments or other necessary in town obligations. This we could do, but it would use up all our discretionary spending money and limit out lives a lot. We would probably have to sell the house in Alaska.
I find this situation sad in a number of ways. It isn’t just that I don’t like having my peaceful old age disrupted with sudden, unexpected difficulties. That happens to people of all ages, and you just do the best you can to get on with it. I wouldn’t mind so much if was because of some natural occurrence. People rush to aid each other in those cases.
The population of Lummi Island is only a little over 1000. I feel, as do lot of others, that we are abandoned by our government. The county is showing little interest in helping us. No information is forthcoming on the so-called “negotiations” that may or may not be taking place with the tribe. I think the “trial run” to Fairhaven is silly. Sending the ferry to Fairhaven is not a viable solution. It would almost surely, for one thing, triple the fare, which is presently about $10. There is talk of daily commuters who work in Bellingham riding as passengers and keeping a car on the other side, but that would cost $6 per day parking. And it would add 2 hours or more (weather permitting) to their commuting time.
Senators and Representatives in Washington have been contacted, and have shown no interest at all in our problem.
It makes me even sadder to think that it is my neighbors on the reservation who have created this problem for me and the other inhabitants of the island. I have always felt sympathy for the Lummis. They were terribly treated by the settlers who began to move into this land 200 years ago. They were forbidden to speak their own language, and their culture was systematically destroyed. They are trying now to recover some of that lost culture but they still bear the scars of the old persecution. However, these wrongs will not be redressed by making life difficult for their neighbors and friends across the water. It will be much more likely to fan the flame of the racism that surely lingers still.
I wish that we on the island had established closer ties to the Lummi Nation in the past. Everyone benefits from mutual interaction, and we have a lot to learn from each other. I want to know about how the first humans lived in this place that is home to us and to the Lummis. My neighbor, Mike, showed me a book about the history of the Coastal Salish people (Exploring Coast Salish Prehistory, by Julie K Stein). They arrived here just as the last ice receded, about 10,000 years ago. When they first arrived the ice had so recently melted that there were not even any shell fish to be had. Today’s Lummis are descended from those people, who learned to survive and whose culture evolved here on the San Juan Archipelago.
It makes me sad that an island group has hired a lawyer and a public relations firm to represent us. I wish we hadn’t had to do this. Our elected government should represent both us and the Lummis, and solve this problem to the benefit of both groups. The retainer for the lawyer, before he opened a book or talked to anyone, was $20,000. That was so he would give us an opinion. The money has been paid. There is as yet no opinion, and it is now said that legal fees may go over $100,000. Why? What is the lawyer going to do? The public relations person is collecting letters from islanders about what the ferry means to them. What is she doing with these letters? I have seen little in the way of a public relations blitz.
I am sure that there is a solution. I am sure that we are not without bargaining points. It looks as though, absent any real diligence or interest on the part of the County, the State or the Federal Government, we will have to do this ourselves. Our government doesn’t care. That makes me sad.
Below is an excerpt from an on line law reference. I think it shows clearly that if the Government wanted to act, it could do so.
Although Native Americans have been held to have both inherent rights and rights guaranteed, either explicitly or implicitly, by treaties with the federal government, the government retains the ultimate power and authority to either abrogate or protect Native American rights. This power stems from several legal sources. One is the power that the Constitution gives to Congress to make regulations governing the territory belonging to the United States (Art. IV, Sec. 3, Cl. 2), and another is the president’s constitutional power to make treaties (Art. II, Sec. 2, Cl. 2). A more commonly cited source of federal power over Native American affairs is the COMMERCE CLAUSE of the U.S. Constitution, which provides that “Congress shall have the Power … to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes” (Art. I, Sec. 8, Cl. 3). This clause has resulted in what is known as Congress’s “plenary power” over Indian affairs, which means that Congress has the ultimate right to pass legislation governing Native Americans, even when that legislation conflicts with or abrogates Indian treaties. The most well-known case supporting this congressional right is Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock, 187 U.S. 553, 23 S. Ct. 216, 47 L. Ed. 299 (1903), in which Congress broke a treaty provision that had guaranteed that no more cessions of land would be made without the consent of three-fourths of the adult males from the Kiowa and Comanche tribes. In justifying this abrogation, Justice EDWARD D. WHITE declared that when “treaties were entered into between the United States and a tribe of Indians it was never doubted that the power to abrogate existed in Congress, and that in a contingency such power might be availed of from considerations of governmental policy.”