It seems that the Tribe and the County have reached an agreement in principle, details to be worked out. The ferry will continue to run its 5 minute passage to Gooseberry Point. It will not have to make an hour run to Fairhaven. A new 25 year lease will be negotiated with the Tribe, with another 25 year renewal option. We first heard about this on the 4th.
It came out in a news release by the county and later at a meeting with the Lummi Indians held here on the island in the school gym. The Tribe requested the meeting. The meeting was called before the lease agreement was announced, which caused some people to worry that there might be angry words from some islanders who felt strongly that they had been wronged. But everything was good fellowship and peace. The meeting was packed, with standing room only for late comers. There was a powerpoint presentation by a member of the Lummi Nation Ferry Task Force.
I couldn’t attend, because I was being frivolous, and spent the day in Seattle at the flower show. I went down with 2 friends and we got home on the 9 o’clock ferry. Although the meeting had ended about 8:30, we saw people in suits walking off the ferry as we were loading, and we figured they were lawyers or the press, attendees at the meeting.
I persuaded Jerry to go to the meeting. He was late and stood in the back with our friend Ria. Both of them are deaf, so I didn’t get much useful information about what was said from them. Jerry said that the man who gave the talk was clearly educated and spoke well. One commenter said that he expressed himself with “dignity and clarity and candor.” He apologized to the islanders for the worry and stress that this situation has caused .
He explained the reasons the Tribe doesn’t like the ferry. Mostly it is traffic and damage from the wake. The Lummi’s want to build a Marina where the dock is, and they want the dock moved, but not moved very far. That will not happen for some years, and will be part of the ongoing negotiations.
There was talk of the tribal culture, about close ties within the community, about their ongoing struggles to get the county to address their needs and concerns. And, finally, some reminiscences from an 85 year old Indian elder. I’m quoting here from an article by Tip Johnson
“I’m telling you a story now and you don’t have to believe it. My dad loaded fish at the (Lummi Island) cannery and my mom cut them. The story goes that mom was working and started having labor pains, and not from her labor at the cannery. So she went out to go up to one of the shacks, but she didn’t make it. They say I was born on the beach, but I don’t care if it’s true. I’m back in my old hometown.”
“I built my own house and I’m a fisherman, not a carpenter. Don’t ask me how it looks, ’cause I’m not tellin.’ My five kids grew up there and I didn’t go back to school until I was thirty eight.”
“I been working with the Lummi all my life. I got the papers to prove it but I don’t want to pack them around. I was around for the first ferry negotiations. We offered the County a lease for $160 a month and, you know, they asked if we could knock it down to $100. Anyway, we don’t want to put anyone in jeaopardy or hurt. We want to be friends. I’m happy to be here. This is my home.”
The man who told this story had been taken from his family and sent away to a boarding school where he was beaten for speaking the Lummi language. He did not see his family for years.
This meeting took place on Thursday night. On Monday night there was another meeting at which about 200 islanders heard the report of the lawyers they had hired to represent the interests those who live or work on the island.
Not all islanders favored hiring lawyers. A lawyer who lives here was particularly vocal in her disapproval. She said we have no legal standing. She felt it would be a waste of money. She said the County should be doing this. Others said that the county was not doing its job. The failed lease was evidence of that.
I was, alas, not at the lawyer meeting either, so I am relying on others’ reports. Here’s what I think was said.
The lawyers examined the lease (which was obtained for them by a group of islanders). The lease was agreed to by the Lummis in exchange for some money and some land. They have constructed some Tribal buildings on the ceded land. The lawyers said that if the the dock part of the lease agreement wasn’t valid, then probably none of the agreement was valid, including the land transfers, especially since the lands transferred were not put into a Bureau of Indian Affairs trust.
The lawyers also said that there is valid right-of-way to Lummi Island through the reservation that had been established in about 1925.
These findings were quietly revealed to both the County and the Tribe, and the result seems to be that both sides abruptly became more reasonable and we now have a tentative settlement.
I was not sure it was wise to hire lawyers. I think I was wrong. They seem to have been a help in resolving this difficult problem. And it all goes to show that opposing groups function better when each side has some bargaining chips and everyone knows the facts. Then there’s time for friendship and understanding and empathy with other people’s problems.