Debra Janean “Debi” Barto



Debra “Debi” Janean Barto Debra “Debi” Janean Barto, 49 of Tulalip went to be with the Lord on June 24, 2015 surrounded by her children and family. She was born April 15, 1966 to Robert Barto and Linda Hill in Eureka, California. She loved to go to garage sales; to garden, to camp, going to the beaches and rivers, and was an avid reader. Her children and grandson were her life. She loved her community. Debbie is survived by her six children, Heather McLean, Shane McLean, Travis Carpenter, Rayvin Foster, Christian Foster, Clara Foster; her mother, Linda Hill; three sisters, Sue, Shelly, and Teddi; grandson, Cory; Aunt Charlene; Cousin Billie; numerous aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins. Services will be held Monday, June 29, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. at Tulalip Tribal Gym. Arrangements entrusted to Schaefer-Shipman Funeral Home, Marysville.

Surdna Foundation Grant Awarded to Northwest Artist Matika Wilbur

Matika Wilbur grant


Source: Tacoma Art Museum


Tacoma, WA – Seattle-area photographer Matika Wilbur, Swinomish and Tulalip, in collaboration with Tacoma Art Museum, has been awarded a 2015 Artists Engaging in Social Change grant from Surdna Foundation. The foundation received more than 1000 grant applications, and Wilbur is one of just 15 artists awarded through the program, receiving a grant of $157,000 (the largest award). The grant will support Wilbur’s Project 562, a nation-wide endeavor documenting contemporary Native American culture through photographic portraits and narratives from each federally recognized Native American tribe. Project 562 is the basis for compelling exhibitions, presentations, articles, books, and curricula that creatively surmount stereotypical representations, historical inaccuracies, and the absence of Native American images and voices in mass media and the national consciousness. 

The inaugural exhibition of Project 562 debuted in spring, 2014, at Tacoma Art Museum, receiving rave reviews from museum visitors and in regional and national press. More than 18,000 visitors saw the exhibition. TAM served as Wilbur’s fiscal sponsor, which enabled her to participate in the highly competitive grant program. 

Wilbur’s beautifully rendered portraits and stirring recordings from select sitters examine the Indian image across socioeconomic and intergenerational spectrums, from tribal to hardcore urban, traditional elders to assimilated teens, conveying the diversity among Native communities and individual experiences. Her provocative work exposes the strength and richness of contemporary Native life, and is profoundly shifting consciousness toward Native Americans. The project conveys the cultural diversity among Native communities and individual experiences.

The Surdna Foundation grant is an affirmation of the power of Wilbur’s work. “I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the Surdna Foundation’s support,” Wilbur said. “Their contribution will fundamentally improve our team’s efficiency and dramatically increase public access of Project 562. For hundreds of years, our ancestors have been calling for authentic stories of our people to be told. I believe that Project 562 is being guided and protected by our ancestors, and we raise our hands to the Surdna Foundation as a source of strength and for believing in our mission to change the way we see Native America.”

To date, Wilbur has driven over 150,000 miles across the United States and visited about 300 of the 567 federally recognized tribes in the United States. She has been welcomed into rare experiences and allowed images, voices, and ideas that have never before been represented. 

Rock Hushka, TAM’s Chief Curator, affirms Wilbur’s role as an inspired and unprecedented messenger: “We are grateful to Surdna Foundation for recognizing the quality and power of Matika’s work with this grant award. She has a rare combination of immense creativity, tenacity, and tremendous sensitivity. Project 562 provides crucial cultural understanding, capturing with unparalleled clarity the vibrancy of contemporary culture along with political and social issues of primary concern to Native Americans across the nation. We look forward to a continued relationship with this remarkable artist and future iterations of Project 562.” 

Surdna Foundation’s Artists Engaging in Social Change grants are designed to support individual artists, culture bearers, and nonprofit organizations whose work helps to inform, engage, or challenge people around specific social issues. Projects receiving funds were selected for the quality of the artistic practice and dedication to exploring critical themes that arise from, or impact a community; and for the project’s capacity to enable social change.

Surdna Foundation’s President Phil Henderson commented, “In an era of accelerated and often dramatic social and demographic change, artists and culture bearers play critical roles within our communities helping us understand and challenge pressing issues. Their visions, communicated through film, performance, text, spoken word and other forms can help communities achieve a sense of connectedness and common purpose.”

Image Credit: Matika WilburMary Evelyn Belgarde (Pueblo of Isleta and Ohkay Owingeh), 2014. Digital silver image, 16 x 20 inches. Courtesy of the artist.




About The Surdna Foundation
The Surdna Foundation seeks to foster sustainable communities in the United States — communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures. For over five generations, the Foundation has been governed largely by descendants of John Andrus and has developed a tradition of innovative service for those in need of help or opportunity.  The Foundation’s support arts and cultural projects through its Thriving Cultures grantmaking program which is based on a belief that communities with robust arts and culture are more cohesive and prosperous, and benefit from the diversity of their residents. Surdna believes that artists and cultural organizations can help us explore shared values and spark innovation, imagination and advancement for our communities.
Contact: George Soule, Director of Communications, Surdna Foundation


Artist Matika Wilbur: 


About Tacoma Art Museum
Celebrating 80 years, Tacoma Art Museum has become an anchor in the city’s downtown and a gathering space for connecting people through art. TAM’s collection contains more than 4,500 works, with an emphasis on the art and artists of the Northwest and broader American west. The collection includes the world’s largest retrospective museum collection of glass art by Tacoma native Dale Chihuly on continued view; the world’s largest collection of jewelry by Northwest artists; key holdings in 19th century European and 20th century American art; and one of the finest collections of Japanese woodblock prints on the West Coast. TAM recently welcomed a gift of 295 works of Western American art in the Haub Family Collection, one of the premier collections in the nation and the first major western American art museum collection in the Northwest. 
HOURS – Tuesdays–Sundays 10 am–5 pm. 
 – Adult $14; Student (6-17), Military, Senior (65+) $12; Family $35 (2 adults and up to 4 children under 18). 
Children 5 and under free. 
Third Thursdays free from 5–8 pm. Members always free.
CONTACT – 253-272-4258,

Battle brews anew over case of Indian money

Federal judge to hear arguments about $380M left over from USDA discrimination settlement.

By Jonathan Ellis, Argus Leader

A federal judge Monday will hear opinions on what to do with $380 million left over from a settlement that was meant to reimburse Native Americans who were discriminated against by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

District Judge Emmet Sullivan has received hundreds of comments, most of them from Native Americans who argue the money should be distributed in another round of payments — a move that the federal government opposes.

The money is left over from a 2011 settlement with the USDA. In 1999, a group of Native Americans sued the government, arguing that USDA discriminated against Native American farmers and ranchers who sought loans from the department. USDA paid $680 million and another $80 million in debt relief to settle Keepseagle v. Vilsack, a similar move the department made to settle other lawsuits brought by minority groups.

The settlement established a claims process for Native Americans who alleged discrimination, and it included a provision that any leftover money would be distributed to nonprofit groups that help Native American farmers and ranchers.

At the time, the parties figured about $1 million would be left over once the claims were processed, said Joseph Sellers, the class counsel. But in the end, there were only about 3,600 successful claimants — far fewer than originally estimated.

“We realized we were going to have a lot more money left over,” Sellers said.

Some of the claimants who received payments wanted another round of disbursements. But the federal government opposed another round of payments because officials did not want Native American farmers and ranchers to receive more money than what blacks, Hispanics and other minorities received in their settlements, Sellers said.

Gwen Sparks, a USDA spokeswoman, declined to comment.

After negotiations, the government agreed to allow the remaining money to be put into a trust. If approved, 10 percent would be distributed to nonprofits by an advisory board, and the remaining 90 percent would be distributed during the next 20 years by a foundation to nonprofits that help Indian ranchers and farmers.

Absent the agreement, the federal government could have demanded that the remaining money be returned, Sellers said.

But the agreement is deeply unpopular with many of the Native Americans who received payments. They argue that, as victims of discrimination, they should receive the leftover money.

In a motion filed last month, Marilyn Keepseagle, one of the original class litigants, said that the victims of discrimination were Native American farmers and ranchers, not the charitable organizations that would get the money. Keepseagle proposed that the money either be paid out to the 3,600 successful claimants, or that another claims period be opened for Native Americans who did not file a claim the first time.

“The ends of justice demand that this money should be distributed to the class members instead of providing a historic and unwarranted payout for charitable organizations,” Keepseagle said in her motion.

Marshall Matz, a lawyer representing Keepseagle and other Native Americans who want another disbursement, said a legal question persists regarding who owns the leftover $380 million.

“It’s a fascinating legal question,” he said.

Matz predicted that whatever happens, an appeal is likely.

“I don’t know why you would need a foundation — to create a foundation — to do unspecified good things when you can give the money to the people who can prove they were damaged,” Matz said.

Connecticut officials praise changes on tribal recognition

By Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut’s top elected leaders are declaring victory in their efforts to see that it does not become easier for local American Indian tribes to obtain federal recognition.

President Barack Obama‘s administration on Monday issued changes to regulations that have been criticized as cumbersome and lacking transparency. Proposed new rules that were first issued in draft form two years ago were seen by officials in Connecticut as clearing the way for three groups that previously had been denied federal recognition to win the prized status.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Connecticut’s two U.S. senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, said at a news conference Monday afternoon that revisions in the final version will prevent those groups from winning recognition and pressing claims for surrounding lands.

“I would like to thank President Obama and Vice President Biden for heeding our concerns,” Malloy said.

He said the changes ensure that groups in Connecticut that already have fallen short of recognition will be blocked from another attempt.

Connecticut has two federally recognized tribes, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe, which own the country’s two largest Indian-owned casinos in the Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun.

The changes that were initially proposed were seen as benefiting three other Connecticut tribes — the Schaghticokes of Kent, the Golden Hill Paugussetts of Trumbull and Colchester and the Eastern Pequots of North Stonington. Federal acknowledgment can bolster a tribe’s claims to surrounding land, eliminate regulatory barriers to commercial development and bring increased health and education benefits to members.

Connecticut’s congressional delegation said they were pleased the Bureau of Indian Affairs reversed course on a plan that would have given another chance to previously denied petitioners.

“That severely flawed proposal would have forced residents, communities and the state to re-litigate petitions already dismissed with substantial evidence and review — causing needless uncertainty for landowners whose properties may have been claimed as reservation land,” they said.

Leaders of the tribal groups that had been hoping for a new path to recognition did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Alaska’s largest tribe vows FedEx boycott until Redskins sponsorship revoked

By Brandon Schlager, Perform Media, Sporting News

At 30,000 members strong nationwide, Alaska’s largest Native American tribe has taken direct aim at FedEx in the hope that the shipping giant’s financial clout might persuade the Washington football team to change its racially-charged nickname once and for all.

Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska says it will boycott all FedEx services so long as the company continues to sponsor the Redskins. In doing so, the tribe, one of the nation’s largest, believes its strength in numbers could be enough to hit the NFL franchise where it hurts — its wallet.

FedEx owns the naming rights to the team’s stadium and is one of its top sponsors.

“This isn’t anti-FedEx. We are exercising our strength financially,” tribal president Richard Peterson said, via the Juneau Empire. “If you actively support entities, in this case specifically a sports franchise that has a mascot and name derogatory to our people, we’re going to spend our dollars elsewhere — that’s us voting with our dollars.”

The Redskins nickname is considered by many to be derogatory toward indigenous peoples. By definition, the Merriam-Webster dictionary recognizes the term as “very offensive and should be avoided.”

But team owner Daniel Snyder insists the moniker is intended to honor Native Americans and has refused to accommodate demands to change it, despite intense public and political pushback.

So far, the team’s biggest sponsors have remained mostly silent on the matter. But that’s what the CCTHITA intends to change with the support of joint organizations like the National Congress of American Indians and the Native American Rights Fund.

“We have a longstanding relationship with Washington Football Inc. (the Redskins’ parent company),” FedEx president Fred Smith, a member of the Redskins ownership group, told CNBC in June 2014 — the last time the company has made a public comment regading its relationship with the franchise.

“The Redskins play at FedEx Field. But there are many, many other events there: the Rolling Stones, Notre Dame, and Army and Navy football, Kenny Chesney. That’s our sponsorship, and we really don’t have any dog in this issue from the standpoint of FedEx.”

Peterson said the boycott will remain in effect until FedEx pulls its sponsorship or the Redskins remove a name he says perpetuates racial stereotypes.

“It’s like anybody else using the N-word,” Peterson said. “It’s like calling our women squaws. It may have been popular … with colonial, backwards-minded people back in the day, but I don’t think it’s appropriate and we need to be a voice and a champion.

“Hopefully they’re going to say, ‘You know what, we’re not going to wave our confederate flag or these old symbols of racism.'”

Feds accuse Missouri man of posing as Indian to sell art

Whetstone 3

By Tony Rizzo, The Kansas City Star

The tradition of Native American art is as rich and varied as the many tribes of North America.

And many collectors and aficionados willingly pay premium prices for it.

But that also makes buyers susceptible to counterfeiters — people willing to risk violating the federal law that prohibits non-Indian artists from marketing their creations as the handiwork of an Indian.

According to federal prosecutors, an Odessa, Mo., man did just that by falsely portraying himself as a Cherokee artist while selling his artwork online.

Federal prosecutors in Kansas City recently charged Terry Lee Whetstone, 62, with misrepresentation of Indian-produced goods and products, a misdemeanor that is punishable by up to a year imprisonment.

Neither Whetstone nor his lawyer responded to requests for comment, and he is not a member of the federally recognized Cherokee Nation, according to records of the Oklahoma-based tribe.

But he is an enrolled member of the Northern Cherokee Nation, according to Chief Kenn Grey Elk.

And while that nation is not federally recognized, it is officially recognized by the state of Missouri, according to Grey Elk.

That, according to Grey Elk, would qualify Whetstone as an Indian under federal law.

Federal prosecutors declined to comment about the charges beyond the information contained in court documents.

Whetstone’s website no longer functions. But for more than a decade, it cited his Cherokee heritage in advertising his music, painting, sculptures and jewelry.

He was raised in suburban Kansas City, according to his online biography, and performed flute music at numerous events around Kansas City. For years, his website claimed that his artwork could be found in many galleries and private collections — and even at The Smithsonian museum gift shop in Washington, D.C.

Whetstone 2

Federal prosecutors in Kansas City said they could not recall a similar case being filed in recent memory under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990.

But the phenomenon is enough of a problem nationwide that a special board under the auspices of the U.S. Department of the Interior has monitored the art world since 1935 to ensure that art marketed as Indian is authentic.

“While the beauty, quality, and collectability of authentic Indian art and craftwork make each piece a unique reflection of our American heritage, it is important that buyers be aware that fraudulent Indian art and craftwork competes daily with authentic Indian art and craftwork in the nationwide marketplace,” the Indian Arts and Crafts Board states on its website.

Federal law does not prevent non-Indians from producing Indian-style artwork. But only a member of an officially recognized Indian tribe, or a person certified as an Indian artist by a tribe, is allowed to market products as Indian-produced.

The law covers a variety of traditional and contemporary arts and crafts.

According to the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, items frequently copied by non-Indians include jewelry, pottery, baskets, carvings, rugs, Kachina dolls and clothing.

“These counterfeits undermine the market for authentic Indian art and craftwork and severely undercut Indian economies, self-determination, cultural heritage and the future of an original American treasure,” according to the Indian Arts and Crafts Board.

For legitimate Native American artists, the law is an important way to protect their cultural identity and livelihoods.

Counterfeiters “are appropriating a culture that’s not theirs,” said George Levi, an Oklahoma artist of Cheyenne-Arapaho descent.

Levi likened the crime to people who profit from counterfeiting the work of big-name fashion designers. Every piece of artwork sold as authentic by a non-Indian takes money away from a legitimate Indian artist, he said.

“They’re just trying to make a buck off of us,” Levi said.

The court documents filed in Whetstone’s case do not specify what type of artwork he sold.

But cached versions of the website listed in court documents featured his Indian-themed paintings and music. The site also showed pictures of Whetstone playing a flute and described him as a “self-taught, talented American Indian flute performer and multi-faceted artist.”

It said that he “reflects the history of his Cherokee heritage in his music and art.”

Last year, he received an award from the Indie Music Channel. In an award ceremony YouTube video, he identifies himself as “mixed-blood Cherokee.”

Whetstone listed his race as white on a 1997 Jackson County marriage license application that gave the option of marking white, black, American Indian or other.

For purposes of complying with the Indian art law, the artist must be an enrolled member of a tribe officially recognized by the federal government or a state. It is unclear whether Grey Elk’s assertion that Whetstone is a member with the Northern Cherokee Nation will have any impact on the federal case.

A person can be certified as a nonmember artist if they are “of Indian lineage of one or more members of a particular tribe,” and they have written authorization from the tribe’s governing body.

The Cherokee Nation carefully authenticates the tribal status of all artists whose work is displayed in galleries and gift shops, said Donna Tinnin, community tourism manager for the tribe.

Ensuring artwork’s authenticity is important for educating people about the specific traditions and history of each tribe, Tinnin said.

“Each tribe has their own story and their own styles of artwork,” she said.

Johnny Learned, president of the American Indian Center of the Great Plains, said he was glad to see the federal government taking action.

Learned said he finds it “interesting” that more people seemed to claim to be Indians as economic opportunities such as casinos expanded for Native Americans.

“I think there should be even more stringent rules that prohibit that,” he said.

To reach Tony Rizzo, call 816-234-4435 or send email to

Read more here:

Unofficial results show Principal Chief Bill John Baker re-elected to lead Cherokee Nation

By Allen Reed, Associated Press

The Cherokee Nation re-elected Principal Chief Bill John Baker on Sunday, according to preliminary results, calming concerns that a four-candidate field would result in another tumultuous election to lead one of the largest American Indian tribes.

The tribal election commission released the unofficial results early Sunday and later began processing about 700 contested ballots at the tribal capital of Tahlequah, about 75 miles east of Tulsa. If the results hold, Baker will have won a second term at the helm of the tribe, with about 320,000 citizens and 9,000 employees. He will control a budget nearing $1 billion and oversee the tribe’s lucrative casino and hotel businesses as well as managing the country’s largest tribal health care system.

Baker said the uncounted votes aren’t enough to change the outcome and fully expects to avoid the hostilities and recounts that marred the 2011 election.

“We believe it will stand,” Baker told the Associated Press on Sunday. “I don’t see any other plan other than to go forward and continue progress.”

Baker had about 53 percent of the vote against three challengers, placing him above the 50 percent threshold needed to win the election outright. The results show he beat former Cherokee Chief Chad Smith, state Rep. Will Fourkiller, and Charlie Soap, the widower of late Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller.

Smith led the tribe for a dozen years before squaring off twice with Baker in 2011, losing the race that dragged into the fall after a series of recounts. The latest contest was an extension of sorts of that election, but Smith said he likely won’t run again if the vote holds.

“I thank the Cherokee people for the opportunity to run and to share with them our vision,” Smith said.

An election administrator said the office was working to count ballots Sunday and commissioners would meet Monday morning to certify the vote count.

Still, Baker said he is ready to get back to work on his populist platform: improving health care, adding more families to the tribal payroll and building homes for their own people.

“We’re looking forward to four more years of growth and prosperity and continuation of the good things God has allowed us to be able to accomplish,” Baker said.

Department of the Interior Announces Final Federal Recognition Process to Acknowledge Indian Tribes

department of interior press release      Date: June 29, 2015
Contacts: Jessica Kershaw (DOI),
Nedra Darling (ASIA), 202-219-4152

Initiative Reforms a Process Long Criticized as “Broken,” Increases Transparency in Important Review of Tribal Recognition Status

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn today released a final rule to reform the regulatory process by which the Department of the Interior officially recognizes Indian tribes. The updated rule promotes a more transparent, timely and consistent process that is flexible enough to account for the unique histories of tribal communities, while maintaining the rigor and integrity of the criteria that have been in place for nearly 40 years.

“Since the beginning of President Obama’s Administration, the Department has worked with tribal and government leaders on improving the federal acknowledgment process, which has been criticized as inconsistent, slow and expensive,” Secretary Jewell said. “This Administration takes very seriously its important trust and treaty responsibilities to Native Americans and Alaska Natives. This updated process for important tribal recognition makes good on a promise to clarify, expedite and honor a meaningful process for federal acknowledgement to our First Americans.”

“This updated rule is the product of extraordinary input from tribal leaders, states, local governments and the public,” said Assistant Secretary Washburn. “We have a responsibility to recognize those tribes that have maintained their identity and self-governance despite previous federal policies expressly aimed at destroying tribes. This new process remains rigorous, but it promotes timely decision-making through expedited processes and increases transparency by posting all publically available petition materials online so that stakeholders are well-informed at each stage of the process. Many of these improvements came from public comments by stakeholders and we are grateful for their guidance.”

To maintain the substantive rigor and integrity of the current regulatory process (described in Part 83, Title 25 – Code of Federal Regulations), the final rule carries forward the current standard of proof and seven mandatory criteria that petitioners must meet to substantiate their claim to tribal identification, community and political authority. To promote fairness and consistent implementation, the new process provides that prior decisions, which found evidence or methodology sufficient to satisfy a particular criterion for a previous petitioner, are sufficient to satisfy that criterion for a present petitioner. The final rule further promotes consistent application by establishing a uniform evaluation period of more than a century, from 1900 to the present, to satisfy the seven mandatory criteria.

Key features of the final rule promote transparency by: 

  • Increasing public access to petition documents for Federal Acknowledgment;
  • Expanding distribution of notices of petitions to include local governments; and
  • Increasing due process by providing for an administrative judge to conduct a comprehensive hearing and issue a recommended decision for proposed negative findings.

In a separate action, Assistant Secretary Washburn issued a policy statement explaining that the Department intends to rely on the newly reformed Part 83 process as the sole administrative avenue for acknowledgment as a tribe as long as the new rule is in effect and being implemented.

To build public trust in the Federal Acknowledgement process, the Department has been working to reform the Part 83 process since the beginning of the Obama Administration. At that time in 2009, Interior initiated its own review. In 2012, the Department identified guiding principles of the reform effort. In recognition of the high level of interest, the Department used a transparent rulemaking approach and significant outreach effort. Before beginning the formal rulemaking initiative, Interior issued a discussion draft in 2013 to facilitate public input on how to improve the process.

Through the discussion draft and ensuing tribal consultations and public meetings, the Department obtained substantial feedback. In total, more than 2,800 commenters provided input on the discussion draft. The Department issued a proposed rule in May of 2014 and extended the public comment period on that proposal in response to requests from tribes, state and local governments, members of Congress and the public. In total, more than 330 unique comments were submitted on the proposed rule. The final rule reflects substantial changes to the discussion draft and the proposed rule in response to public comments.

Federal acknowledgment establishes the U.S. Government as the trustee for Tribal lands and resources and makes Tribal members and governments eligible for federal budget assistance and program services. Since 1978, of the 566 federally recognized tribes, 17 have been recognized through the Part 83 process under Title 25 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Procedures for Establishing that an American Indian Group Exists as an Indian Tribe. The Department has denied acknowledgment to 34 other petitioning groups.

Though far more tribes have been recognized through Executive or Congressional action, the Part 83 process is an important mechanism because it allows deliberative consideration of petitions by a staff of federal experts in anthropology, genealogy and history and ultimately allows for a decision by the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs. When petitioning groups that meet the criteria are officially “acknowledged” as Indian tribes, the U.S. Government accepts trusteeship of Tribal lands and natural resources. Tribal governments and members then become eligible to receive federal health, education, housing and other program and technical assistance.

The final rule and other information is online

Hooked: Swinomish Fish Co. Supplying Salmon for Haggen Supermarkets

Bridget Besaw / Swinomish Tribe ArchiveMike Cladoosby and Kevin Day Sr. are Swinomish fishermen. The Swinomish Fish Company, a tribe-owned business that buys their catch, has an agreement to supply fish to Haggen, a supermarket chain.

Bridget Besaw / Swinomish Tribe Archive
Mike Cladoosby and Kevin Day Sr. are Swinomish fishermen. The Swinomish Fish Company, a tribe-owned business that buys their catch, has an agreement to supply fish to Haggen, a supermarket chain.

Richard Walker, Indian Country Today

Swinomish Fish Company, owned by the Swinomish Tribe, is supplying Baker Lake spring chinook salmon to the largest independent grocery retailer in the Pacific Northwest.

Haggen Food & Pharmacy has 164 stores in Washington and Oregon, as well as California, Arizona and Nevada. Haggen’s seafood buyer, Amber Thunder Eagle, spent the winter meeting local fish companies and making arrangements for a spring catch to be delivered to Haggen’s seafood cases.

It’s as much a story about habitat restoration and resource management as it is economic development. For thousands of years, Swinomish ancestors living in villages along the Skagit and Baker rivers harvested salmon to meet the people’s dietary, ceremonial and trade needs: chinook from April to June; sockeye from June to August, pinks during odd-numbered years from July to September, and chum from September to November. The ancestors used weirs and traps, nets, spears, and hook-and-line to take salmon and other fish.

The 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott made land in this region available for non-Native settlement. The ancestors did not give up their people’s right to harvest salmon on the Skagit and Baker rivers. But in the post-treaty years, new industries – logging, mining, farming — took their toll on the rivers and the salmon. Dams built in the 1920s and 1950s to generate electricity, impeded salmon migration.“Rail lines and logging roads … increased sedimentation in the gravel beds used for spawning,” the Historical Research Associates report states. “In some instances, road embankments spilled directly into stream channels through landslides … Timber harvest methods, such as clearcutting, similarly proved damaging to fish habitat [by] increasing turbidity and sedimentation from erosion  …”

In the 1890s, salmon runs were estimated at 20,000, by the time the first dam was built, that was down to 15,000. By 1985, only 99 spring chinook returned to spawn, according to the Historical Research Associates report.

But the health of the run rebounded, thanks to years of habitat restoration and resource management efforts, and conveyance systems that help salmon get to ancestral spawning grounds upstream of Lower and Upper Baker dams. In 2012, a record-high return was recorded with more than 48,000 fish returning to spawn, according to the Swinomish Tribe. The forecast for this year’s spring chinook run was 35,000; the summer sockeye run projection is 46,268, according to the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife.

“We’re grateful for the restoration of the Baker Lake run,” Swinomish Fish Company vice president Everette Anderson said in an announcement of the Haggen contract. “The community who made this possible are steadfast in the preservation of this run, which will benefit the people of Washington for generations.”

According to the Swinomish Tribe, the Swinomish Fish Companyis the largest Native American-owned seafood wholesaler, retailer and custom processing plant in the United States. Its brand, NativeCatch, is all-natural, wild, and sustainably harvested, and distributed around the world.