LOPEZ ISLAND, Wash. – The Pavey Family Trust is donating three and one-half acres of tidelands on Lopez Island’s Mud Bay to the Samish Indian Nation.
The tidelands contain natural oyster beds. The area is below the mean tide mark and Samish will have access to the tidelands by water only. But the tidelands ownership is significant because it re-establishes Samish’s presence on the island, which is within its historical territory.
“We are really interested in having a presence on all of the islands in our territory,” Samish General Manager Leslie Eastwood said. “In 20 to 25 years, we’ll see that
The Tulalip Tribes also owns land on Lopez Island. The Lummi Indian Nation owns Madrona Point, a historic site on Orcas Island, and is active in the protection of cultural sites and natural resources in the San Juans. Lummi, Samish and Tulalip canoes visited the San Juan Islands, of which Lopez is one, en route to Cowichan, British Columbia, during the Canoe Journey in July.
Eastwood said Samish is considering oyster farming on its new tidelands acreage. Ownership is expected to be transferred to Samish by the end of August.
The Pavey family contacted the Samish Nation in Anacortes and extended the donation offer last year after reading of Samish’s efforts to obtain treaty fishing rights. Although Samish was included in the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855, it was mistakenly left off a federal list of recognized tribes in 1969 and was not included in a federal court decision five years later, which upheld the right of federally recognized tribes to fish in their traditional and accustomed territories.
Article 5 of the treaty states that the signatories have “the right of taking fish at usual and accustomed grounds and stations … in common with all citizens of the Territory,” which U.S. District Court Judge George Boldt interpreted to mean a 50 percent share.
While Samish was re-recognized by the federal government in 1996, it is still fighting for restoration of its treaty fishing rights. Oral arguments were made Oct. 5 in U.S. District Court in Seattle; the court has not yet made a decision.
Eastwood, who is also a Samish tribal member, said Samish is more interested in resource management and subsistence fishing than commercial fishing. She said Christine Woodward, Samish’s director of Natural Resources, attends Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission meetings, “but we’re more like an associate member. We want that same opportunity to advocate and co-manage with the state.”
Eastwood said Samish will use its fishing rights primarily to provide fish for ceremonial and social purposes, as well as for elders. “That’s more important than the commercial aspect of it.”
Treaty fishing rights apply also to shellfish in traditional and accustomed areas, although it wouldn’t apply to tidelands that Samish owns.
According to the late anthropologist Wayne Suttles, the Samish historically had camps and villages on southeast San Juan Island, eastern Lopez Island, and on Blakely, Cypress, Fidalgo, Guemes and Samish islands.
Today, Samish owns a block on Commercial Avenue in Anacortes, as well as Fidalgo Bay Resort on Weaverling Spit, and land on Campbell Lake on Fidalgo Island. It recently raised a welcome pole at its Fidalgo Bay Resort. William Bailey, the Samish artist who carved the pole, said it is believed to be the first pole on Weaverling Spit in about 200 years.
Other Samish public art: House posts at its offices facing Commercial Avenue and a 24-foot carved likeness of Ko-kwal-al-woot, a Samish woman who married a sea being to guarantee salmon runs for her people. The statue is located in Deception Pass State Park.
Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at email@example.com.