East Shore Unitarian Church hosted a Prayer Journey visit on Thursday, March 2 for members of the House of Tears Carvers. They are traveling to Oak Flat, Arizona in support of the San Carlos Apache tribe who are fighting to protect their sacred ceremonial grounds at Oak Flat. Cecile Hansen, chairwoman of the Duwamish Tribal Council, attended and along with Duwamish Council member Ken Workman who welcomed East Shore community members and House of Tears Carvers guests Freddie Lane, Doug and, Siamel’wit James and their two children. The Lummi shared prayers and explained the purpose of the Totem Pole journey to Oak Flat. Coming with a sacred Eagle Staff carved by Lummi Carver Richard Solomon, they gathered prayers and hands-on blessings from our community. Approximately 40 people attended including Bellevue City Mayor Lynne Robinson and City Council member Janice Zahn.
House of Tears Carvers will continue their journey south to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, California. On March 21 when a judicial decision will be made about the fate of the Oak Flat sacred site. A copper mining company owned by Rio Tinto, a foreign mining company aims to build an enormous copper mine in Apache sacred lands that would destroy much of the land and water resources in the drought-stricken area.
While awaiting the judicial decision, House Natural Resources Committee member, Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz) announced the introduction of the Save Oak Flat From Foreign Mining Act. This act is designed to permanently protect Tonto National Forest’s Chí’chil Biłdagoteel Historic District, also known as Oak Flat, from foreign mining operations that will permanently desecrate the area and destroy its tribal cultural and religious heritage sites.
For more information on the legislative action proposed by Raul Grijalva, click here.
If you enter the Sanctuary in the next couple of months, be sure to take a look at the MMIWP profiles and faceless felt dolls on the walls of the foyer. The “Invisible No More” exhibition generates a visual representation of the many indigenous people who have become “faceless” victims of violence.
Did you know that Washington State has one of the highest MMIW cases compared to other states? Of 71 cities surveyed in 2018 and since by the Indian Urban Indian Health Institute, Seattle has had the largest number of such cases. Nationwide, 84% of American Indians and Alaskan Natives report experiencing violence during their lifetimes, and 56% experience sexual violence specifically. In some counties, the murder rates of American Indians/Alaskan Natives are ten times the national average.
East Shore’s Women’s Perspective and Indigenous Connections Team collaborated to host a workshop. “Culture, Trauma and Resilience” on January 21. At the workshop, members and guests learned about causes of, and solutions to, the crisis.
Carolyn DeFord, a member of the Puyallup tribe, led the workshop that was attended by nearly 40 women in person and 10 via zoom. Carolyn explained how Federal Indian policy, historical and intergenerational trauma, sex trafficking, jurisdictional issues and media invisibility all contribute to the current MMIWP crisis. Each attendee then created their own doll based on the profiles of actual women, girls, boys and men that Carolyn provided. We invite you to come to East Shore to view “Invisible No More: Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women and People” and bear witness to the lives of these people cut short by violence.
Many indigenous organizations are working to address the MMIWP crisis. They include:
We R Native, Urban Indian Health Institute, Data for Indigenous Justice, National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, StrongHearts Native Helpline (strongheartshelpline.org), Rising Hearts, Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, Innovations Human Trafficking Collaborative (innovationshtc.org), Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women (csvanw.org).
A bill to create a new unit in the State Attorney General’s Office to help solve cold cases of MMIWP is now before the Washington State legislature in the current session. If you support such a measure, contact your State Representatives to support House Bill 1177 (Companion Senate Bill 5137).
East Shore is blessed to receive and display the “E Ala E” Mural in the Sanctuary. It is the culmination of a collaborative process between Guatemalan Social Artist, Melanie Schambach, and hundreds of contributors across the country. East Shore members and friends painted parts of the Mural as it accompanied the Red Road to DC Totem Pole journey over the summer, 2021.
We invite you to view the Mural accompanied by photographs and explanatory materials in the Sanctuary. The mural will be on display at East Shore through October, 2022. Don’t miss it!
For those who would like to try their hand at coloring some of the images, please note that Melanie has generously offered a free coloring book and coloring sheets available at her website: melanieschambach.com/ealaedownloads.
The recent overturning of Roe v. Wade has so many of us questioning the wisdom of our current Supreme Court. Their overturning of settled law in this, and other instances, threatens the hard-won freedoms for all Americans. It has also had unsettling impacts on some of the most marginalized in our country – the American Indian. Settled Law has always been touch-and-go in this arena and it is apparent we are in for more changes.
The U. S. government has a long and evolving history regarding its treatment of tribal nations and their sovereignty. Numerous treaties were made, and subsequently broken, by the federal government as it exchanged forced moves to reservations for the right of tribes to hold lands and hunting/fishing rights.
During the 1800s the federal government attempted to solve what it termed the “Indian Problem” as settlers continually moved west, encroaching into Native American land. One solution, The Dawes Act of 1887, authorized the president to “grant” a standard acre allotment to individual tribal members from tribal lands that were held in common. This acreage was to be held by individuals for 25 years before it could be sold to the highest bidder. However, the Dawes Act resulted in unallocated lands that the federal government sold to whites. The “granted” lands and the for-sale lands were checkerboarded together as a means to break up tribal cohesiveness. In addition, the “granted” lands were sometimes held by Indians unable to pay the taxes, so they lost their allotted lands.
In addition to the problems of land and tribal sovereignty, poverty reigned in Indian Country. Another factor was education of tribal children and forced boarding schools that began in 1860 with the first school being located on the Yakama Reservation. Some of these schools were run by Unitarians. One such example was a boarding school on the Crow reservation in Montana called the “Montana Industrial School for Indians” or “Bond’s Mission School.” In 1928, 41 years after the Dawes Act was implemented, the Meriam Report (official title: The Problem of Indian Administration) demonstrated the failed policies of the federal government about how it dealt with its “Indian Problem”. By 1932, fully two thirds of the land belonging to Indigenous people in 1887 was now owned by whites. In 1953, House Concurrent Resolution 108 gave Indians one-way tickets to low paying jobs in big cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Seattle and New York. A large population shift occurred so that now more Indians live in the city than live on reservations.
In response to the failures pointed out in the Meriam Report, the Wheeler-Howard Act of 1934 (or the Indian Reorganization Act) was put into place allowing tribes to be self-governing if they chose. Some Washington State tribes that immediately opted in were the Colville, the Shoalwater, the Spokane, the Lummi, the Chehalis, and the Yakama Nations. This decision, until recently, has been a supporting factor in the federal government’s legal view of Indigenous lands. While it has been challenged (remember Billy Frank, the Fish Wars and the Boldt decision?), the Wheeler-Howard Act has held until recently. The US Supreme Court, in the Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerto decision this summer, has granted the State of Oklahoma the right to prosecute non-Indians doing harm to Indians on Indian reservations in Eastern Oklahoma. Before the decision, tribal police had jurisdiction.
Tribal entities, for example the Cherokee Nation, have poured millions of dollars into their police. Those police cooperate with local, state and federal governments, but they have had jurisdiction of all people on Indian lands. The Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerto decision directly threatens the sovereignty of Indian Country again.
Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was quoted in a recent Seattle Times as writing, “’As a matter of state sovereignty, a State has jurisdiction over all of its territory, including Indian Country.” In this statement, Kavanaugh discounted the court’s landmark Worcester v. Georgia decision of 1832, which held that tribal lands were separate from the states, describing that stance as outdated. In his dissenting opinion, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch “wrote that Worcester v. Georgia correctly established that tribes retain their sovereignty unless and until Congress says otherwise.”
Today, I am writing about another decision on the Supreme Court docket for October. The case, Brakeen vs. Haaland (formerly Brakeen vs. Bernhardt) is being brought by the states of Texas, Indiana, and Louisiana. It alleges the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is unconstitutional. That Act says Indian children in distress are to be left with responsible family members or in the tribal community for their welfare. The concept is an attempt to stop some state agencies from taking Indian children and putting them in the care of white families. Reservations do not have Child Protective Service functions and without the ICWA, children become vulnerable to removal from their family’s home. Forty-three years as settled law, the ICWA keeps Indigenous children connected to their community and culture.
Madonna Thunder Hawk of the Lakota Law Center warns the Supreme Court is committed to undermining both individual and Indigenous sovereignty: “Their deliberations continue to rob Indigenous autonomy and self determination by taking away the very protections that shelter our young ones.” Local tribal law experts agree with her.
In 2018, a District Court in Texas found the ICWA unconstitutional. The federal government and four intervening tribal nations had that decision reversed in 2019. In April, 2020, a review was issued that brought into question the definition of “Indian Child” and also found certain sections of ICWA to be unconstitutional. In September, 2021, the Department of Justice, the State of Texas, the intervening tribal nations (including the local Quinault Tribe) and several individual plaintiffs, all formally asked the Supreme Court to look at it. Since that request, the Oklahoma v. Castro-Heurto decision has sent shockwaves throughout Indian Country as settled law no longer seems to be sacred to the Supreme Court. They fear once again they will be losing their children.
Our local tribes are asking we vote for pro-sovereignty law-makers in upcoming local and congressional elections. We, as Unitarians, aren’t responsible for what Unitarians did to Indian children in the past, but we can be accountable to support them and our local indigenous populations now.
by Maury Edwards, on behalf of Indigenous Connections Team members (a sub-group of the Eighth Principle Ministry Team)
Over the May 28th weekend, an honoring ceremony for Lummi Elder & Carver, Se Sealth (Jewell Praying Wolf James), was held at the longhouse (Wexliem Community Center) on Lummi grounds near Bellingham. As an attorney and activist, Mr. James has been a leader nationally and internationally in securing treaty rights, protecting the environment and ensuring sovereignty for native American tribes. As head of the House of Tears Carvers and a long-time leader of the Lummi Indian Nation, he launched a series of Totem Pole Journeys beginning in 2002 to bring awareness and build community ties within and between indigenous and non-indigenous communities. Jewell James carved the “Red Road to DC Totem Pole” (RR2DC) that made its way to East Shore on July 11th last year. It subsequently traveled through 26 states to Washington DC where it was gifted to the Biden administration.
Several East Shore members volunteered to help the Lummi hosts prepare for the arrival of four canoe families and land protectors as part of the “Gathering of the Eagles” (Esqalph etse Kwelengsen), a week-long healing canoe journey to the San Juan islands for indigenous communities, held prior to the Honoring Ceremony. We prepared and served food to several hundred guests over two days, helped secure arriving canoes, and five ESUC members attended the honoring potlatch as representatives of East Shore. On behalf of our congregation, we presented Mr. James with two enlarged, framed photographs showing two RR2DC stops—one at East Shore and the other at Pike Place Market. We raise our hands to Jewell James and the Lummi for their leadership in advocating for the Salish Sea, orcas and salmon, the Snake and Columbia rivers and all life in the Pacific NW and Turtle Island!
This latest totem pole created by Jewell James represents Tahlequah, the orca who carried her dead calf for 17 days for 1,000 miles. Our resident orcas face likely extinction due to starvation if the Lower Snake dams are not breached soon to revive the salmon runs on the Snake and Columbia Rivers on which they depend. This totem pole highlights how the health of the Salish sea depends on healthy river systems and is part of a current campaign to mobilize political support for breaching the dams.
Carrie and Marilyn in the Wexliem Community kitchen with the cooks, Tina, Dori and George.
Securing the Chief Leschi family canoe (Puyallup) as they arrive on Lummi shores from the San Juan
I wanted to share with the congregation the publication of the Red Road Mural coloring book. I feel tremendously grateful and blessed to have been invited to participate in the creation of such a beautiful expression of communal solidarity and interconnectedness. Now there are interactive tools available to make the stories in the coloring book and the communities represented come alive.