Honoring Nations: Darrell Hillaire and Sharon Kinley: Semiahmoo Project

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Darrell Hillaire and Sharon Kinley from the Lummi Nation and its Semiahmoo Project discuss the unfortunate circumstances that prompted the creation of the project, and how the Lummi are using the project as an opportunity to re-engage their culture, elders, core values, and language. 

Native Nations
Resource Type

Hillaire, Darrell and Sharon Kinley. "Semiahmoo Project." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 10, 2004. Presentation.

Darrell Hillaire:

"We at Lummi, we feel quite honored to be here today. I also have Leonard Dickson here with us today and Greg Amahli, that are here representing Lummi. And it's, this is a place that we think carries a lot of prestige, but that isn't why we're here. We also recognize the agenda and recognize a lot of names of great leaders that are in attendance here, and we get kind of excited here about coming here to share some time with them. But I think, most importantly, we come here because we've established some pretty good friendships over the years. Joe Kalt, and we take his advice in the things that we try to do with our businesses and we're thankful to him for that. Andrew Lee, who's taken the time to come spend some time with us at Lummi and learn about us a little bit more, and it gives the program that we're working on together more meaning, and we thank Andrew for doing that. And of course our elder, Oren Lyons, who's been a friend of previous leadership at Lummi and continues to be our friend today and someone that we look up to with a great deal of respect. And that's the most important reason why we come here, to share some of our ideas with you and ask for help in some of the things that we're doing because we know that as we continue to grow, we're going to be making mistakes, and maybe you've seen something that we haven't seen.

We probably have a lot of things that we can talk about today. You know, we have the infrastructure issues that we work on, our water, our roads that requires partnerships not only within the Lummi government, but also other governments, state and local governments. We probably could talk about our casino and how we've set up the distribution of funds from our casino to the different programs, most importantly, education and to our members. But I think today we're going to talk about using financial and human resources wisely as it relates to a specific incident. That sometimes we talk about as a project and sometimes we talk about it as a program, but really, what it is, it's about the recovery of our ancestors. And what had happened four years ago is that, within our homeland, at a place called Semiahmoo, over 65 of our ancestors were disturbed, and removed, and disrespected, and located in other cities and in other homes. And it was very tragic for us to learn and understand what had happened and we had to respond with a sense of urgency to this crisis. After we got over the hurt, after we got over the anger, there was a lot of work to be done, and that work continues today. And this work is simple when we as a people follow the protocols of the old people, the work becomes simple, but it's hard when we come up against inevitable development, and talk about money and talk about politics and talk about political decisions, you know? And I think we're doing that because I think it goes right to the heart of who we are as people. When you think about it that way, when you think about standing up and fighting for the integrity of your nation and your people, then this work has to be done and those bridges have to be crossed, and we have to learn about that because at the end of the day it defines who you are. So that's why we felt that we needed to talk about Semiahmoo today as a project, but it's much much more than that.

So with that, I'd like to introduce Sharon Kinley. She's the dean for the Coast Salish Institute at Northwest Indian College, which is located on our reservation. She's also my relative, and she's also been with Semiahmoo from the beginning, for four years. We've been through three chairmen since this has occurred, and Sharon and ten other people have been there from the beginning and they're still there. And I sense that they'll be there until the work is completed. So with that, I'd like to introduce Sharon Kinley. Thank you."

Sharon Kinley:

"Good morning. My name is Sharon Kinley, I'm from the Lummi Nation. I am the director of the Coast Salish Institute, which is an institute that our new president, Cheryl Crazy Bull, has introduced to the college for the preservation and the revitalization of the Coast Salish cultures in our area that we serve. Last week -- I've done this presentation hundreds of times, but it never gets easy -- last week, I saw Darrell in the hallway and he said, ‘Gee, I'm going to Harvard to do this presentation and I decided that you should come and share what we've been doing at Semiahmoo because it really fits into the way that they lay out the honoring of nations.' And so I said, ‘Yeah sure, okay. I'll come.' And when I read the agenda on the plane over here and when I listened to you talk this morning, now I know why I'm here.

At Lummi, we have a very long history in Puget Sound, and the Georgia Basin, what is now called the Georgia Basin Watershed. We have for hundreds and hundreds of years, our old people, our [Lummi language] have fished and lived, raised their children, buried their dead, and all the areas that surround the Lummi Nation and all our neighboring tribes. And what we know about all these old villages and these old people is that where they lived, they buried their dead. One of the things that we're particularly interested in at Lummi at the college, is being able to reconstruct and to write about the history of reef netting, which is a technology that exists amongst the Coast Salish people, especially in our area, which extends across the Canadian border, and doesn't exist really, in any other culture in the world.

As many of you know, in 1855, the Lummi Nation, amongst others, entered into a treaty with, what is called the Point Elliott Treaty with the United States. As many of our elders have told us over the years that after those promises were made in the Point Elliott Treaty, the late Pateus used to say to us, '...and then they said,' to us, ‘go this is our land now.' In 1973, when I was a lot younger, the City of Blaine decided to construct a sewer plant -- not a wastewater treatment plant, but a sewer plant. And in that, the rules of development were very different, and 1973 was before a lot of the laws that have been established to protect cultural resources wherever written or certainly, ever followed. In 1997, as a result of the treatment plant, of the sewer plant, being constructed, Western Washington University, in conjunction with the University of Washington, had to come into the area and do what anthropology, what archaeology calls salvage archaeology, which is archaeology that you do ahead of the bulldozer. You're just going in to collect what you can in a very short period of time. And that report, when we read it all these years later, by Dr. Grabert, what we know is that what he collected there, he could determine was at least 3,000 years old. This site -- as it's located on the boundary exactly between the United States and Canada, in Puget Sound -- is probably the most well documented site in all of Puget Sound.

It was only in 1980, after all those years of trying to get their ancestors repatriated without any of the NAGPRA [Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act] laws, the Lummi were successful in doing that, brought the ancestors that were collected in the salvage archaeology home and reburied them at the Lummi cemetery. There was a lot of talk in the community by the elders at that time, because our belief is that the most important thing to do in these situations is to rebury our dead where they were originally dug up. In this case, the elders in their wisdom decided that we would rebury them at the Lummi cemetery because they just didn't think to rebury them at Semiahmoo would protect them. And they were right.

Probably over the course of this project, I personally and a lot of our staff has learned more about engineering studies, more about the permitting process in Washington State, more about NAGPRA, Section 106, and all the historic preservation laws. And what we know is that consultation with tribes takes place at the end of the permitting process, at least in Washington State. I don't know about Massachusetts, but in Washington State there's a whole phase of development that takes place that's called pre-permitting, where people, if it's your development, have spent a lot of money. They spend a lot of money on engineering studies and all kinds of things, and then they enter into the permitting process. And in that very long, complex permitting process, tribes are at the end, in consultation. By the time the developer and the city council make consultation and contact with the tribe, they'd already made up their mind that they were going to continue this project.

And in August 1999, through a very long story, we arrived out at the treatment plant only to find that what was supposed to be an expansion to the sewer facility actually was an acre excavation site that was 18 to 20 feet deep. And as you see, in the excavation site here, it was solid shell midden from the top to the bottom, which is thousands of years of habitation. It was solid shell midden from the top to the bottom. And we said that day, one of our cultural directors said that day to the people, to the construction people who were working there because they had come across a burial. And he said to them, ‘I'm so glad that I happened to show up today to be here while this burial was being disturbed.' And the guy who was kind of running the machine said to him, kind of offhandedly, ‘Oh well, that's nothing, you should have seen the 26 that we took out yesterday.' And we just froze. And so, it took us a day of people's attorneys calling other people's attorneys, our attorneys calling the sheriff, to get a stop work order in place. And as we were doing that, they continued to dig.

This is just a shot of the excavation site itself, where over 400 truckloads of fill were taken offsite to a local landfill site and deposited there. And this local landfill site, the gray area that you see, is the shell midden that came from this ancient cemetery. This is private property, probably about seven miles away from the treatment facility, and as we arrived there that day and walked that site, there were ancestral remains that were physically on the ground everywhere. And so, at that point in time, we had ourselves, the Lummi Nation, as a jurisdiction, the private property owner, the City of Blaine, the county, the developer, and USDA and Rural Development. We have multi-jurisdictions standing there looking at each other, wondering what they were going to do. And we knew right from the very beginning that we had many obstacles. Certainly externally: permitting processes, jurisdiction, unrelationships. And certainly, in those very first days, how we felt and, for the most part, when I stand here, I can still feel how we felt that day. We couldn't talk. We couldn't even talk to each other. And, internally, amongst ourselves, over many years of being affected by residential school and other federal policies, we did not agree in how to handle it. We did not agree what was the best method, what was the best road to take, in all of our diversity. And we knew we had no money. We didn't have money for cultural resource, or NAGPRA, or repatriation, or any of those things.

After long discussion with the tribal council, with our elders, with many community people, with our youth, the tribal council issued a resolution immediately that year to the city, the county, to the [unintelligible] office. And they said, 'We will recover our ancestors. We will take care of the gravediggers, our own people who are going to go out there and recover our ancestors. We will protect this site from further desecration, and we will make sure that this never happens again to anybody, not just here.' We decided, we made a conscious decision, and not all projects do, but we made a conscious decision that this was going to be a culturally driven project. And we went to the couple that you see here on the right, and we said to them, 'What's the first thing that we should do?' And they sent my daughter to Vancouver Island, in B.C., to a little tiny island off the coast, you have to take two ferries to get there, and we went to this elder that you see on your left, the late Rose James because she, at that time, was the oldest ritualist in this part of the country that has the responsibility for caring for the dead. And we went and got her and we asked her to help us, and she came, and she lived in my house for four years. And she got up every morning and she went with all the young people that we had taught to screen this material, the 400 truckloads of fill. This old woman, over 80 years old, got up every morning, faced the daylight and said prayers for us and our ancestors.

So we used to go out to this site and we used to work until noon, these old people, and after three or four months of my not being a morning person and being tired, doing this work and then going to my job, we would look at her and she just, she never faltered. And we thought, ‘Gee, if she can do this stuff, so can we.' And she used to say to us every single morning, ‘You can do this. You can do this.' And we used to look at 400 truckloads of fill and think, 'How are we ever going to do this?'

This is just a shot of some of the artifacts that we have recovered to date. We have artifacts, we have more artifacts in our possession presently than the university. We have artifacts in our collection that the archeologists in our area have never seen. The other thing that we knew that we had to do was, because this is a culturally driven project, we decided that the people that were going to do the work, was us. We were going to do the work. And after that, we went to the university and asked Dr. Campbell, who is the lead archeologist there, to send us two of her best graduate students. They had to be technically sound in archaeology, they had to have real good writing skills so that we could work out all this, all this permitting process, all the reporting that we had to do to the state because remember, Semiahmoo was not, was no longer our property. It belonged to the city and the county. And so in order to even work there we had to apply for a permit to the state to collect ancestral remains. And we told her, 'Send us your best graduate students and they're of no use to us unless they can teach. Unless they can teach us, they're no good to us.' And so we had 20 young Lummis and our elders, and these graduate students came and Dr. Campbell, and we started. And our elder used to say, ' You just get up every morning and you put one foot in front of the other.' And every morning she got up. She was over 80 when she first came. So I thought, I even thought we could do this.

The other thing that we did after a couple of years of screening material, and we are probably, in four years, we are probably not halfway done. In four years. And the other thing that we did is we decided that we had to look at this whole permitting process, we had to engage it, we had to become the most knowledgeable at it, we had to be able to interact with the county, the state, and all the other jurisdictions, and all our other neighboring tribes in a very different way than what we were used to. We created our own [unintelligible] office, we created a contract service office, which is archaeologists and our tribal people and we said to all the largest development people in the area, 'When you are going to develop within our Aboriginal territory, you come and ask us to do the survey and site work. You come and ask us first.' And we also have set up in, recently, the Repatriation Office, which is not just to respond to NAGPRA, but it's to respond to all the inadvertent discoveries that happened all the time in our territory. Last week, we handled five inadvertent discoveries in three separate counties, all affected by human remains, all cemetery or burial ground disturbances. And we developed Title 40, a code of law that we developed within the Lummi Nation that not only helps people who have been working in the surrounding counties and jurisdictions know how to work with us in these situations, but it also helped our own planning department. It helped us interact with our own land use plan, so that we could know when we were putting in a road, where not to build it.

We decided too, that -- I don't know how well you know us, because I don't travel a lot -- but we, we know how to be Lummi aggressive. What we decided was that we had to learn more about being proactive and assertive in a very different way. We realized that we had to build relationships and so we set out to do it very deliberately. We met, and we worked with the Watcomb County planning office, with the Watcomb County Council. We meet regularly and work closely with the State [unintelligible] Office. We work with San Juan County, Skagit County agencies, private industry in our local area. We also learned real quickly that we had to develop relationships with the media. We had to meet with editorial boards. We had to educate them about who we are. At Northwest Indian College, when we set out to expand our college and to build new buildings, we went out and hired a firm who went out and interviewed the county. And she came back and she met with the president and the faculty and she said, ‘Nobody knows who you are. Nobody even knows you're here.' And so, very deliberately, we then felt that we had to educate not only ourselves internally and be able to work together, but the surrounding our neighbors, and our neighbors' children.

The other thing that the tribal council did a lot anyway, but did a lot for us, was begin to work on very deliberate relationship building and agreements with all of the agencies that are doing and are affecting development in our area. USDA and rural development, we're the funders of this treatment plant. In the beginning, they had already put a couple of million dollars into this project when we said, ‘Stop.' We've also very deliberately over...yesterday, my husband met and worked on an inadvertent discovery with the Nooksack Nation in a burial disturbance that took place right on what we call the traditional boundary of both of our reserves, and so we work a lot with the neighboring tribes, both in our area, and in British Columbia.

We have learned about how to align our resources, how to use education as a tool to educate our people in archeological methods, hopefully to get them to think about going on to four-year universities, at least get them into Northwest Indian College, where we can give them basic skills and a really good two-year degree. And we have learned, I have personally learned more about the legislative process than I ever thought I would have to know. We knew every senator, every chief of staff, every secretary, we knew everybody. And we knew when to call them. We also knew that it costs a lot of money, and in the beginning we didn't have any, and so the tribal council made a very, a very difficult decision. It put $200,000 into this project in the very beginning. It was a very difficult decision, internally because one of our core values is to protect the graves of our ancestors, but we also need money for youth treatment and intervention, for the education of our children, for health care, and they were very difficult decisions that the tribal council had to make.

The last thing that we're going to show you that we worked on is...one of the things that we've done at Northwest Indian College, well two of the things that we're doing, is that we are utilizing the technology of GIS mapping, where we are actually teaching our young children the technology of GIS mapping. And I can't even articulate it to you because I don't understand it. And all of my kids are computer literate, but we are teaching them to actually map in the cultural resources. We've had long conversations internally about this, because the elders are very uncomfortable with it. And at this point, we're actually doing the work, but we haven't made those decisions about who we share it with other than ourselves. The other thing that we did was that we set up a whole program at the college where we would train our young people how to collect and learn their own history. And to collect the oral histories, to record the language because our elder, the late Rose, said to us the very first day that she came, 'Language is the most important thing. You have to turn to your culture for the answers.' And that's what we did. You have to turn to your culture for the strength, and that's what we did. And so we took all of these young people and we trained them in the technology of oral history, in video production...this is actually, looks like a laptop, it's actually a very expensive editing machine. And they go out and they interview the elders, they create biographical sketches that we then are turning into material for our curriculum that we are writing, on history, and at the same time, they are building relationships with their own grandparents, the people that they go and interview."

Darrell Hillaire:

"And where we go from here, well, we just settled with the archaeologist Gold and Associates. We had to take them to court via a class action suit, which meant we had to bring together the people to sign on to...would be very complicated for them to understand in legal terms, but they did it. And, as a result of that settlement, we were able to realize about $4.2 million that's going to help us continue the work. And this compensation that we receive for the people is not payment, but it's a thank you for having them standing with us; for those who are leaders in a traditional way and also for those such as myself who represent the government. We all stood together, and it's important for us to note that, if we stay true to ourselves these things can happen. And as the judge said, he said, ‘The court has never lost track of the fact that the money is the most inconsequential aspect of what we're dealing with here. This was a tragic event. It was something that never should have happened. The court recognized the fabulous job that the Lummi and its attorneys played to get recognition and acknowledgment to provide a solution to the tragedy.' He stated he believed that he hoped this work would 'prevent anything like this from happening in the future, for all tribes, not just in western Washington, but throughout the country, and even into Canada, where this case has resonated.' He commented that he hopes the Lummi feel that the American system of justice, which has let them down so many times in the past, didn't let them down this time. He stated that this result made him feel very, very good.

And I think as we went through this, I really can't even describe it as a process, but we had to have our time with a number of people, not only Gold and Associates, but the City of Blaine, the Department of Agriculture, the state historic preservation office -- all these people we had our time with -- and at the end of that time I think we had some things resolved and we came away with some friendship. And today, with the City of Blaine, their city manager, whom we fought hard with four years ago, today he was an auctioneer at an event we had for raising money for the Freedom and Liberty Bowl. He auctioned off some of our arts and crafts to the people. So that's how far we've come in this relationship, and we need to continue that. But today, you know, as Sharon said, we need to get involved with the permitting process. But I think, more importantly, we need to get involved with the planning process. And share our vision for our homeland. At Lummi, we've been invited by the City of Bellingham to join in the planning for the development of 139 acres right on the waterfront in Bellingham. To them, they'd like to see a replica of a traditional longhouse built right on that waterfront, and to us, that represents where my great grandfather lived. So some of these things can happen, but it means we have to get involved in the front end, so that's where we have to go from here. So, [Lummi language]."

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