Letter by Dena Jensen
On May 12, 2016 this letter was sent to Lummi Nation and to the individuals mentioned by name in the letter:
Dear People of the Lummi Nation:
It was probably about two years ago that I was fortunate to first attend a presentation by members of the Lummi Nation at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship. These tribal members, Jewell James and Jay Julius among them, shared information about your cultural heritage, and your connection and sacred responsibility to Xwe’chi’eXen. I remember being welcomed and empowered by the kind and compelling words of the speakers. We were asked to bear witness to past struggles and tragedy that the Lummi people have suffered, and the perseverance and bold efforts that propel you forward in your sacred responsibilities to protect your culture, language, way of life, lands, and waters for the benefit of many future generations.
I learned much that evening. I was moved and inspired by the testimony and generosity of the members of Lummi Nation that were there.
But there is something that I was blind to then, and that I began, in the weeks, months, and years – from then to this day – to learn and bear witness to as well. As I attended other Lummi events, some of which were also at BUF, I began to recognize something about the people who who were telling their stories.
Lummi individuals who were speaking, such as Hereditary Chief Bill James, Tsi li xw; Tim Ballew II; Jewell and Doug James; Jay Julius and Kurt Russo; Freddie Lane; Swil Kanim, were not simply magnanimous hosts of notable credentials who were giving testimony and motivating the audience to go out into their community to bear witness to what they had heard and embrace their own sacred responsibilities to protect and preserve our lands, waters, and living creatures.
Among these people were those who, I began to realize, were heading into downtown Bellingham after working a long day fishing to provide food for their people and the greater community, who had just put down craftsman tools they were using to carve a totem pole to take on an epic journey to heal those who would gather around it. They were people who were organizing other events; researching plans and studies for their communities; consulting with engineers, lawyers, doctors and government agencies; filming, creating, and performing; educating their youth and fellow tribal members; handling the many tasks of running their nation; traveling across the country to educate those in Washington DC about the issues critical to Lummi Nation’s Schelangen.
At the end of their busy work days, or after thousands of miles traveled, and endless lists of things to be done, they would invite members of the community, like me, to come and be ministered to by their words, hearts, spirits, history, and intelligence.
And with them, came others: family members, elders and children, also generously offering themselves, after their priceless efforts during their own busy and exhausting days, to an evening or afternoon that was being donated to people like me.
The example of individuals that I mention is just a fraction of the Lummi people. They are a portion of the breadth, complexity, and richness of your great Nation.
You hosted events on your tribal lands that inspired, elevated and enhanced those members of the Whatcom County community who came. You have welcomed us, shared with us, and fed us so generously. You have moved us into action to embrace our shared responsibility.
And so it is, that I write to tell you that I am celebrating your victory of having your treaty rights upheld by the Army Corps of Engineers. I tell you that there never should have been a question that they would be. You gave up a massive territory and formed an agreement with the United States Government to retain your rights that are represented in the Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855. Promises were made in a circumstance that should, at the very least, guarantee that they will never be broken. They must never be broken. Thank you for your faith, will, and extraordinary efforts to reach out, speak out, and fight to protect what we all should be working with you to protect everyday; what I will be fighting with you to protect everyday.