Judge allows Swinomish lawsuit over oil trains to proceed

By Shannen Kuest, Skagit Valley Herald, goskagit.com


A federal judge ruled Friday that a lawsuit filed by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community against BNSF Railway over oil train shipments may continue in federal court.

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik denied a motion by BNSF to refer key questions to the Surface Transportation Board, a three-member board in Washington, D.C., that oversees railroad operations, according to a news release.

The Swinomish tribe sued BNSF in April for violating the terms of an easement agreement allowing trains to cross its reservation in Skagit County.

The lawsuit concerns train tracks laid along the northern edge of the reservation in the 1800s without consent from the tribe or federal government. The tracks serve two Anacortes oil refineries, and in 1976 the tribe filed a lawsuit for nearly a century of trespass.

In 1991, the tribe and BNSF signed an agreement settling that lawsuit and granting BNSF an easement with several conditions: BNSF would regularly update the tribe on the type of cargo, and only one train of no more than 25 railcars would cross the reservation in each direction daily. In exchange, the tribe agreed not to “arbitrarily withhold permission” from future BNSF requests to increase the number of trains or cars.

The tribe learned from media reports in late 2012 that “unit trains” of 100 railcars or more were beginning to cross the reservation. Today, BNSF is reportedly running six 100-car unit trains per week across the reservation, more than four times as many railcars daily as permitted by the easement, according to the release.

Each of these trains carry between 2.8 million and 3.4 million gallons of Bakken crude, a particularly explosive cargo that has drawn the attention of lawmakers and federal regulators.

The tribe never granted permission to increase the number of railcars and repeatedly demanded that BNSF stop violating the easement. So far, BNSF has refused.

BNSF argued it has a responsibility to provide service, even for hazardous commodities, and that the easement doesn’t give the tribe power to “dictate the commodities that BNSF can handle over the line,” according to the release.

Tribal attorneys argued that the tribe does not want to regulate BNSF operations, but wants BNSF to live up to its contractual obligations.

Lasnik agreed, writing in a six-page ruling that, “In the context of this case, referral to the (transportation board) is neither efficient nor necessary.”

The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction prohibiting BNSF from running more than one train of 25 cars in each direction and shipping crude oil from the Bakken region across the reservation. The tribe also seeks judgments against BNSF for trespass and breach of contract.

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, http://www.TacomaArtMuseum.org

Honoring Nations Announces 2014 Awards in American Indian Tribal Governance


Swinomish stands with Harvard representatives for a group photo after being awarded at the 2014 NCAI Conference in Atlanta, GA. Photo courtesy Brian Cladoosby. #SalishSeaOilFree
Swinomish stands with Harvard representatives for a group photo after being awarded at the 2014 NCAI Conference in Atlanta, GA. Photo courtesy Brian Cladoosby. #SalishSeaOilFree



CAMBRIDGE, MASS, OCT 29 – From more than 60 applicants, six tribal governance programs have been selected as 2014 Awardees by the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development’s Honoring Nations program. The Honoring Nations awards identify, celebrate, and share excellence in American Indian tribal governance. At the heart of Honoring Nations is the principle that tribes themselves hold the key to generating social, political, cultural, and economic prosperity and that self-governance plays a crucial role in building and sustaining strong, healthy Indian nations.

Calling them trailblazers, Chairman of the Honoring Nations Board of Governors Chief Oren Lyons (Onondaga) says, “the 2014 Honoring Nations awardees look down the long road and don’t get lost in the demands of the moment. They are about our future, and the children coming, and the responsibilities of all leaders to their nations.”

Administered by the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development at Harvard Kennedy School, Honoring Nations is a member of a worldwide family of “governmental best practices” awards programs that share a commitment to the core idea that government can be improved through the identification and dissemination of examples of effective solutions to common governmental concerns. At each stage of the selection process, applications are evaluated on the criteria of effectiveness, significance to sovereignty, cultural relevance, transferability, and sustainability. Since its inception in 1998, 118 tribal government programs and three All-Stars programs have been recognized from more than 80 tribal nations.

Honoring Nation’s Program Director Megan Minoka Hill (Oneida Nation WI) states, “Honoring Nations shines a light on success in Indian Country to share valuable lessons that all local governments, Native and non-Native, can learn from to better serve their citizens.”

Presentations and dissemination of the work of the 2014 awardees will include exhibits at the Smithsonian Institution, a web platform through Google Cultural Institutes, written and video reports and case studies, executive education curriculum, and national presentations.

The 2014 Honoring Nations awardees are:

  • The Lummi Nation’s Wetland and Habitat Mitigation Bank: A bank of tribal wetlands habitat set aside and preserved to sell as “credits” to offset the impact of on- and off-reservation development projects that impact wetlands habitat.
  • Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe’s Child Welfare Program: Tribal child welfare services provider that administers Social Security Act programs to provide culturally reflective programs and services and keeps S’Klallam children in S’Klallam homes.
  • Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo’s Owe’neh Bupingeh Rehabilitation Project: A complex project to rehabilitate and restore homes in the “Pueblo core” of the community, preserving the core’s 700+ year-old structures while modernizing homes for 29 families.
  • The Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Potawatomi Leadership Program: A six-week summer internship program for college-student Potawatomi citizens to work in the tribal government offices and gain a more thorough knowledge of tribal organization, thereby increasing their capacity as future tribal leaders.
  • The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s Role in the Scott County Association for Leadership and Efficiency (SCALE): A local collaborative association of tribal and municipal governments to increase efficiency and cooperation among agencies and governments in Scott County, Minnesota.
  • The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community’s Climate Change Initiative: A thorough initiative that incorporates assessment of current and forecast climate change impacts on the tribal community and resources, and a plan with tools for establishing mitigation strategies.

Swinomish Tribe Prepares For A Changing Climate

EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran meeting with Swinomish Tribal Council Chairman Brian Cladoosby at the Swinomish Reservation to discuss a new $750,000 grant to help the tribe prepare for climate change. | credit: Ashley Ahear
EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran meeting with Swinomish Tribal Council Chairman Brian Cladoosby at the Swinomish Reservation to discuss a new $750,000 grant to help the tribe prepare for climate change. | credit: Ashley Ahear


by Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

La Conner, Wash. — The Swinomish people have lived near the mouth of the Skagit River north of Seattle for thousands of years. Now, climate change threatens their lands with rising seas and flooding.

The Obama administration recently awarded the tribe a large grant to help cope with climate change.

The entire Swinomish reservation is pretty much at sea level, on a spit of land tucked into Skagit Bay.

Tribal chairman Brian Cladoosby says that as the waters rise, his people have been some of the first to feel the effects.

“We are experiencing it,” Cladoosby said Thursday. “We are witnessing it. For us here on Swinomish, we live on an island.”

The tribe has nowhere else to go. Flooding has put the tribes commercial areas and infrastructure at risk.

So, more than a decade ago, the Swinomish started planning.

Larry Campbell Sr., the tribal historic preservation officer, remembers.

“We took the stance where at the federal government level the scientists were still arguing, ‘is climate change a reality?’” he recalled. “We said ‘no, it’s a reality. What are we going to do to mitigate it?’”

The federal government took notice of the tribe’s climate change preparations.

“The Swinomish is a tribe that has shown leadership on climate in the past,” said Dennis McLerran, the Northwest Regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has awarded the Swinomish a $750,000 grant. McLerran met Thursday with tribal leaders to discuss their plans.

The money will be used to map where sea level rise will affect tribal infrastructure and sacred places. It will also fund an assessment of how climate change will impact tribal health and natural resources – like salmon.

“We think this is money well spent. The work that they’re doing here is work that we think will be valuable in a variety of other places and particularly for vulnerable communities and for tribal communities,” McLerran said.

Scientists project that sea levels could rise by more than 3 feet by the end of the century.

Lorraine Loomis Elected Chair of Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

Lorraine Loomis
Lorraine Loomis

By: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission


OLYMPIA – Lorraine Loomis, a Swinomish tribal member, has been elected chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

She replaces the late Billy Frank Jr., who served as NWIFC chairman for more than 30 years. Frank died on May 5, 2014 at the age of 83.

“I am honored and humbled to be elected chair of the NWIFC,” said Loomis. “No one can ever replace Billy. It will take all of us to carry on his work.”

Loomis, who was serving as vice-chair of the commission, will fill the remainder of Frank’s term as chair through May, 2016. Shawn Yanity, Stillaguamish tribal chair, was elected to replace Loomis as vice chair. Ed Johnstone, Quinault Indian Nation, will continue as NWIFC treasurer.

Loomis, 72, has been Swinomish tribal fisheries manager since 1975. She has extensive experience in fisheries management throughout the region. She currently serves on the Fraser River Panel of the Pacific Salmon Commission that manages sockeye and pink salmon under the U.S./Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty. Loomis also coordinates tribal participation in the annual North of Falcon salmon season development process with the State of Washington.

“Our treaty rights are at serious risk today,” Loomis said. “Salmon recovery is failing in western Washington because salmon habitat is disappearing faster than it can be restored. If there are no salmon available for harvest, our treaty rights mean nothing. We must stop this ongoing loss of habitat, but so far the trend shows no sign of improvement. We are looking to the federal government, as our trustee, to take a more active role in salmon recovery and lead a more coordinated salmon recovery effort.”

The NWIFC is a support service organization for the 20 treaty Indian tribes in western Washington that are co-managers of the region’s natural resources with the State of Washington. The commission provides services to tribes in areas such as fisheries management, habitat protection and fish health. The NWIFC also provides a forum for tribes to address shared natural resource management concerns and enables the tribes to speak with a unified voice.

The NWIFC is headquartered in Olympia, with satellite offices in Forks, Burlington and Kingston and employs a staff of 70.

With a camera, Matika Wilbur aims to bring Indian history to the here and now

To redefine our image of her people, photographer is out to show us every tribe.

By Tyrone Beason, Seattle Times


Alan Berner / The Seattle TimesMatika Wilbur took this portrait of her niece, Anna Cook, for Project 562, a three-year, cross-country road trip aimed at documenting all of the nation’s 562-plus Indian tribes. Cook is Swinomish and Hualapai. The portrait is part of an exhibit at Tacoma Art Museum.
Alan Berner / The Seattle Times
Matika Wilbur took this portrait of her niece, Anna Cook, for Project 562, a three-year, cross-country road trip aimed at documenting all of the nation’s 562-plus Indian tribes. Cook is Swinomish and Hualapai. The portrait is part of an exhibit at Tacoma Art Museum.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER Matika Wilbur has a little exercise she encourages new acquaintances to perform.

Do a Google image search for the term “Native American” and see what comes up.

The first result on a recent attempt is a grainy, sepia-toned picture of an unidentified Indian chief staring into the distance like a lost soul and decked out exactly (and unfortunately) as one might expect — in a headdress of tall fathers and a vest made of carved horn. It looks to be from early in the previous century. The next six pictures, variations on this theme. It’s as if the society depicted in these images ceased to exist decades ago.

Wilbur, a 30-year-old from Seattle who’s a member of the Tulalip and Swinomish tribes of Puget Sound, knows perhaps as much as anyone in America how laughably out-of-whack that Google-search result really is. She is halfway through an epic journey funded by everyday people via Kickstarter to visit and document every single federally recognized tribe in the United States — more than 500 in all.

For the past year and a half, she’s been taking new images to replace the tired ones that pop up in Internet searches, in the mainstream media — and in our minds.

She calls her three-year campaign Project 562, the “562” representing the number of recognized tribes when she started out; there were 566 as of this spring. The first 50 or so gallery-ready images from the project are on exhibit at the Tacoma Art Museum until Oct. 5.

It is the most ambitious effort to visually document Native Americans since Edward Curtis undertook a similar challenge at the beginning of the last century. Back then, it was widely believed that Indians on this continent were going extinct and needed to be photographed for posterity.

Wilbur is also concerned about photographing Native Americans for posterity, but her project is more a story of survival and advancement than extinction.

Matika wilburSome of Wilbur’s Project 562 portrait subjects live closer to home, such as sisters Darkfeather, left, Eckos, center, and Bibiana Ancheta, from the Tulalip Tribes north of Seattle. Wilbur is also a Tulalip member.
Matika wilbur
Some of Wilbur’s Project 562 portrait subjects live closer to home, such as sisters Darkfeather, left, Eckos, center, and Bibiana Ancheta, from the Tulalip Tribes north of Seattle. Wilbur is also a Tulalip member.

Wilbur’s first name means “messenger” in her tribal language, and she more than lives up to that title. She pursues the issue of Native American identity with the zeal of an evangelist. And she doesn’t mince words.

“How can we be seen as modern, successful people if we are continually represented as the leathered and feathered vanishing race?” Wilbur says in a clip on Kickstarter.

In person, she makes an equally powerful impression, telling stories, laughing out loud and giving hugs, but also speaking earnestly about her work.

Taking a break from the field to attend the opening of the Tacoma exhibit this spring, she pointed out that images such as hers have an impact well beyond museums and classrooms.

“We have to take back our narratives,” she says. “It’s time we stop assuming an identity that was never really ours.”

Native Americans make up only 1.7 percent of the U.S. population, or about 5.2 million people, according to the 2010 Census.

As Native American tribes negotiate for things like federal recognition and access to natural resources, Wilbur says it helps to show that Indian society remains intact and functional, albeit diminished.

“Imagery matters,” she says. “Representation matters.”

PROJECT 562 officially launched in the fall of 2012, when Wilbur, a schoolteacher, decided to give up her apartment in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood along with “a salary, a really cozy bed and a juicer!” and hit the road.

Matika WilburWilbur captured twin brothers Jared (left) and Caleb Dunlap, both of Seattle, in a lighthearted moment during a cultural gathering in Quinault, on Washington’s Pacific Coast. The brothers, from the Fond du Lac band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Minnesota, jokingly refer to themselves as the “nerdy natives.”
Matika Wilbur
Wilbur captured twin brothers Jared (left) and Caleb Dunlap, both of Seattle, in a lighthearted moment during a cultural gathering in Quinault, on Washington’s Pacific Coast. The brothers, from the Fond du Lac band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Minnesota, jokingly refer to themselves as the “nerdy natives.”

She laid the groundwork by networking through Facebook, tribal newspapers, cultural leaders, professors and even distant relatives to get out the word and drum up contacts. She launched the first round of her Kickstarter campaign to fund her travels, raising $35,000.

Then Wilbur packed up her Honda with her belongings, as well as personally canned fish and berries from the Northwest to present as gifts to her hosts around the country, and headed out.

To date, she has visited more than 220 tribal lands from Long Island to Louisiana, Hawaii to Alaska, armed with little more than a camera and audio equipment, and a willingness to live out of her car and sleep in the homes of strangers.

Wilbur jokes that there are only two degrees of separation between people even in the most far-flung sections of Indian country. Still, it can take time to follow the necessary protocols with tribal leaders and identify portrait subjects, and days more to build rapport before the camera comes out.

In the field, Wilbur, a people person if ever there was one, sings and dances and cooks and feasts, gaining access to tribal events and behind-the-scenes moments that are off-limits to most outsiders.

“I can hang — I’ll do your dishes!” Wilbur says in typically animated fashion one day while “hanging” in her old stomping grounds on Capitol Hill.

Wherever she visits, locals make a way for her. “It’s like they take pity on me,” she jokes.

Wilbur, who maintains a small staff of volunteers based in different cities, seems to have struck a chord. A second Kickstarter campaign to raise $54,000 more to continue the project netted pledges totaling nearly four times that — $213,461.

The Tacoma Art Museum helped raise $20,000 to print silver gelatin images on display there.

Project 562 is only partly a photographic journey. It is also a social documentary, a contemporary oral account by people young and old, rancher, blue-collar and professional, of what it’s like to be an Indian in the United States.

At the Tacoma exhibit, recorded audio and video interviews accompany the portraits, adding nuance and resonance to the framed and in some cases hand-painted pictures. Subjects speak frankly about experiencing racism, their connection to the land, spirituality and personal identity. It is not always easy listening.

Wilbur’s teenage niece, Anna Cook, is the subject of one portrait. She talks about going to a Catholic school and struggling to find a place in the overwhelmingly non-Native student body. On the recording that accompanies her portrait, she sobs while talking about how the white, Hispanic and the few Native students self-segregate in her school’s lunch room — “but nobody really says anything about it. I just have one really solid friend that I sit with by myself, so we kinda like separate ourselves.”

That interview saddens Wilbur even now. But she believes that by having Cook expose her deepest anxieties about being Native American, she will inspire other young Native Americans to do likewise — and open a window for the rest of us.

“It’s scary to be honest,” Wilbur says. “But if we don’t do it, then we won’t change the experience for the next generation.”

Subjects in the exhibit express differing views about what it means to be an Indian. Star Flower Montoya, Barona and Taos Pueblo, shares advice from her grandmother: “You learn to wear your moccasin on one foot and your tennis shoe on the other.”

But Turtle Mountain Chippewa Jessica Metcalf, a Ph.D in Native American studies, expresses an alternate take in the clip that accompanies her portrait:

“We are not split in half. We do not have to choose . . . We do not leave our Indianness at the door when we walk into a grocery store or into an academic situation. We are who we are wherever we walk.”

WILBUR HAS tackled the issue of Indianness before.

In her earlier exhibit, “Save the Indian, Kill the Man,” Wilbur plays off the 19th-century U.S. government practice of sending Native American kids to boarding schools to assimilate them. The pictures explore how genocide and the loss of language and traditions contribute to problems such as substance abuse among Indians, which she believes is caused, in part, by a desire to numb the pain of historical and present-day ills.

Native Americans and Alaska Natives have among the highest rates of alcohol-related deaths and suicides of all ethnic groups in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wilbur says it’s crucial to deal openly with the “sickness and toxicity” that plague Native American communities.

At the same time, it’s important to combat stereotypes perpetuated in, say, old “cowboy and Indian” movies, as well as depictions of drunken, downtrodden urban Indians, she says.

What’s striking about Wilbur’s pictures is the flattering way Wilbur has chosen to portray her subjects. The exoticism of the “noble savage” is replaced by an everyman sort of dignity. Majestic, natural backgrounds suggest a deep pride of place. The viewer can sense Wilbur’s determination to reset our attitudes about Native people.

“Unfortunately, a lot of times when young people discuss ‘What’s Indianness,’ it’s associated with poverty and struggle,” Wilbur says. “That struggle somehow defines who we are, and I think I made the same mistake as a young person. I associated it with alcoholism and drug addiction, and the negative things in our communities that we’re still trying to recover from.”

First, Wilbur had to wrestle her own ideas about what it means to be an Indian.

Wilbur’s mother, Nancy Wilbur, whom she describes admiringly as “an old-school hustler, a total entrepreneur,” was an Indian activist who ran a Native American art gallery, called Legends, in La Conner when she was a kid. There, across the Swinomish Channel from the reservation where she grew up, the young Wilbur had privileged encounters with influential artists such as Marvin Oliver and Douglas David, who’d stop in to show off their latest work.

Wilbur’s Swinomish family has a deep connection to the land around La Conner; a road near town even bears the Wilbur family name.

There was much that Wilbur could’ve been proud of in those years — but she was angry.

At college in Montana and then Southern California, where she earned a bachelor’s degree from the Brooks Institute of Photography, she became tired of fielding ill-considered questions about her identity. Explaining to people unfamiliar with Northwest Coastal culture that “No, I didn’t grow up in a teepee” can wear you down.

Even though she knew the stereotypes about contemporary Indian life were wrong, Wilbur was “too young and naive” to figure out what actually did represent her culture, or why certain ills within her community persisted.

“I didn’t understand why my people were sick; I didn’t understand why I had been to 70 funerals,” she says.

It took some time to connect the dots.

After college, Wilbur traveled abroad in search of herself, spending time in Europe, Africa and South America, where she photographed indigenous communities in Peru.

Wilbur came home inspired. Instead of thinking of her heritage as a burden, she’d work to showcase it. She would be “my grandmother’s granddaughter,” passing on the positive traditions and beliefs handed down to her while documenting efforts to improve life for present-day Native Americans, from programs to revive fading tribal languages to ones aimed at improving health-care outcomes on reservations.

Her portraits don’t avoid colorful Indian attire and ceremonies — far from it. From White Mountain Apache crown dancers in full body paint and headdresses to traditional hoop dancers, the collection celebrates custom and ritual. But presented among pictures of academics, activists, students, family men, career women and cowboys who are Indians, these images have a more appropriate context.

When the exhibit opened in Tacoma this spring, Wilbur invited local relatives, project volunteers and subjects from around the country to the opening party to present blessings of song, dance and storytelling. What could’ve been a stodgy reception turned into a moving and at times rousing affair, with a stunning cross-section of Native American society on hand — Puyallup, Tulalip, Swinomish, Paiute, Pima, Crow, Yuma, Apache and beyond.

Thosh Collins, a portrait subject from the Pima of Arizona, remarked on the uplifting spiritual energy in the room.

“What she’s doing is healing work, wellness work,” he said of Wilbur’s pictures.

At times like this, it’s hard to ignore the sad fact that this country’s Native people have few opportunities to celebrate across tribal affiliation in a mainstream space like an urban art museum. And it is even rarer for non-Natives to bear witness to such a gathering.

Rock Huska, the museum’s curator for Northwest Contemporary Art, admits that TAM has limited experience with Native American art from the present day. And it is taking a huge gamble in helping an artist in the field to bring her project to fruition. The exhibit on display now is, in a sense, a test case for this type of collaboration. The museum will use feedback from paying visitors to make needed refinements and decide later how to work with Wilbur as she gathers additional material.

Wilbur is engaged in two kinds of image-making — and only one involves a camera.

She talks a lot about making Native Americans “attractive.”

But when Wilbur uses that term, she isn’t just talking about physical beauty. She’s also talking about doing things that inspire others to make positive change in their own way — leading by example.

As Collins sang a song with his dad and brother at the opening reception, Wilbur, wearing a traditional woven hat, led a large, smiling group of women and men locked arm-in-arm in a joyful circle dance around the museum’s atrium.

Wilbur says her goal is to build a traveling longhouse that represents her Northwest Coastal Indian roots and can be set up in cities all over the world to showcase her portrait collection, reminding visitors that the communities represented in her images aren’t just a part of history — they’re still making it.

Tyrone Beason is a Pacific NW magazine writer. Reach him at tbeason@seattletimes. Alan Berner is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

Coast Salish Nations Unite to Protect Salish Sea


Coast Salish Sea Tribes and Nations

The Lummi, Swinomish, Suquamish and Tulalip tribes of Washington, and the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Musqueam Nations in British Columbia stand together to protect the Salish Sea. Our Coast Salish governments will not sit idle while Kinder Morgan’s proposed TransMountain Pipeline, and other energy-expansion and export projects, pose a threat to the environmental integrity of our sacred homelands and waters, our treaty and aboriginal rights, and our cultures and life ways.

The Salish Sea is one of the world’s largest and unique marine water inland seas. It is home to the aboriginal and treaty tribes of the Northwest whose shared ecosystem includes Washington State’s Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the San Juan Islands, British Columbia’s Gulf Islands and the Strait of Georgia.

In December 2013, Kinder Morgan, the third largest energy producer in North America, filed an application with the National Energy Board (“NEB”) of Canada to build a new pipeline to transport additional crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta to Vancouver, B.C., where it will be put on tanker vessels and shipped to Asia. The NEB is the Canadian federal agency that regulates energy.

If approved, the proposal would result in expanded transport of crude oil from approximately 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day. This is a 200 percent increase in oil tanker traffic through the waters of the Salish Sea. Vessel groundings, accidents, leaks, and oil spills are not only possible, they are inevitable.

New jobs and economic growth are being touted as incentives to justify the expansion of the Northwest as the “gateway to the Pacific.” But good fishing and tourism jobs will be lost that depend on a healthy and intact environment. If these projects are approved, the potentially catastrophic effects to our environment and cultural resources will put our Northwest way of life in jeopardy.

In addition to the Kinder Morgan proposal, other port projects and expansions seek to increase the cumulative export of raw fossil fuels from the Salish Sea region to the Asian Pacific and beyond.

As the first peoples of the Salish Sea, it is our responsibility to ensure that our ancestral fishing and harvesting grounds are not reduced to a glorified highway for industry. Each of these proposals represents a potential new threat to our treaty rights in the traditional fishing areas of the Coast Salish tribes and nations. These are rights that the United States promised to protect when they signed treaties with the tribes, recognizing our inherent right to fish “at usual and accustomed grounds and stations.” (1855 Treaty of Point Elliott, Article 5.)

Our relatives to the east, on the sacred Columbia River, are fighting similar battles against dirty fuel projects that threaten to pollute their lands and waters. The Nez Perce stand firm on ensuring that this unique area of the country and tribal homelands are not transformed into a “mega-load” industrial corridor.

Other Columbia River tribes, including the Yakama, Umatilla, and Warm Springs all stand with the Nez Perce to fight for their traditional fishing grounds on the Columbia River and its tributaries. Multiple energy export proposals, up and down the river, threaten to choke the very life from a once bountiful traditional fishing ground. Coast Salish tribes link arms with their cousins along the Columbia.

On February 11, 2014, the undersigned tribes and nations collectively filed for official intervener status in the National Energy Board (NEB) of Canada’s hearing process that decides whether or not to approve Kinder Morgan’s application. This will allow us to present our story, offer evidence and studies documenting impacts on our way of life, and ask important questions during the hearings to ensure the panel receives all the information needed to make an informed decision.

The Coast Salish will fight for our treaty rights, our culture, and our way of life. If protecting our homelands and cultures means standing up against Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain Pipeline, and other proposals that endanger our region, we will most certainly do so. It is our sacred duty to leave future generations a healthy world.

If our children and our children’s children are to know the taste of wild salmon, and the ancient calling of the Salish Sea, we must stand up. The Coast Salish peoples have a saying, “from white caps to white caps,” which means from the snowy peaks of our mountains to the foam-capped waves of our seas, this is our world.

We issue a call to all Native Americans, First Nations relatives, and to all people who love the Salish Sea to please stand with us to protect our rights, our health, and our children’s future. It is our generation’s time to stand up and fight. What happens to the Salish Sea happens to our peoples, and to all those who call this unique place home.

“When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money,” according to Cree prophecy.

We urge you to share your objections to Kinder Morgan’s pipeline with President Barack Obama and Governor Jay Inslee before a decision is made by writing and calling:

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500




Governor Jay Inslee

Office of the Governor

PO Box 40002

Olympia, WA 98504-0002



Chairman Brian Cladoosby, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community

Chairman Melvin Sheldon Jr., Tulalip Tribes

Chairman Leonard Forsman, Suquamish Tribe

Chairman Tim Ballew II, Lummi Nation


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/02/17/coast-salish-nations-unite-protect-salish-sea