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Holy Road: ‘He was a true chief’

TULALIP, Wash. – Glen Gobin was almost apologetic about his dad’s obituary in a local daily newspaper.

“Was it too long?” he asked.

But after listening to friends and relatives recount Bernard William Gobin’s life, someone might have asked, “Was it long enough?”

Courage and determination were early traits of Bernie Gobin’s. An eager patriot, he lied about his age to join the Army – and found himself on guard duty in Korea at age 15 with the 63rd Infantry Division.

He fought for fishing rights for Washington’s treaty tribes and advocated for fisheries resource management.

Despite a seventh-grade education, he rose to positions of influence and became a vigorous defender of treaty rights and an active campaigner for economic development: Tulalip Tribal Council member and chairman, gaming commission chairman, utilities commission chairman, and fisheries director.

As an artist, he carved bentwood boxes and masks, and outfitted his family with drums, rattles and other regalia – not just for use in ceremonies and cultural gatherings, but because he believed traditional art should be an active part of his family’s life and not something they only saw on display.

“He was a real chief,” his daughter, Patti Gobin said.

Bernie Gobin died May 4 at home. He was 79. The flag was lowered to half-staff outside the Tulalip government offices. On May 7, friends, family members and admirers paid their respects at an interfaith memorial service in the Tulalip Tribal Center. A burial service was held the next morning.

Gobin was born Dec. 8, 1930 in Darrington, Wash., to Ruth and Joseph Gobin. His Native name was kai-kai.

According to his family, he learned to hunt and fish at an early age, passions that remained with him until his last days. After military service, he worked as a commercial fisherman and cut cedar shake boards. He and Delores Young married in 1950 and had a family of six children.

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From 1952 – 54, Gobin was treated for tuberculosis, losing a lung in the process. After recovery, he returned to fishing and began a long political career as a Tulalip council member. He also began carving and painting in the Coast Salish style, and playing the guitar and steel guitar in his church band.

“Once Bernie caught a taste of something, whether it be carving, music or politics, and especially fishing, it never left him,” his family wrote. “He was a man of many passions, and a man of many accomplishments, and was well regarded by all who had the opportunity to meet him.”

He was well regarded by foes as well. According to his family, Gobin served as his own attorney in a fishing dispute and was asked by his defeated opponent where he got his law degree.

In recognition of his lifetime of advocacy for fishing rights and resource management, the Tulalip fish hatchery was renamed the Bernie “Kai-Kai” Gobin Hatchery in 2000. Gobin was also a leader in the Tulalip First Salmon Ceremony.

The Rev. Pat Twohy, a Catholic priest among the Coast Salish people for almost 25 years, said Gobin was unwavering in his devotion to his family, his faith and his people.

“He made a decision early in his married life to devote himself to his wife and children. He held to that his whole life. He was selfless in his devotion to them. He was loyal to the Church of God. He never wavered in his faith. And he was willing to step up in service for his people. His work has borne abundant fruit and the people are prospering.”

When Tulalip leaders were divided on how to develop a swath of land along Interstate 5 – industrial and warehousing were two options under consideration – Gobin held firm for commercial and recreational development. His foresight, and that of other like-minded leaders proved correct – Tulalip’s Quil Ceda Village is home of the largest retail outlet mall in the state, the largest hotel between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, one of the largest spas in the Pacific Northwest, the Tulalip Amphitheater and the Tulalip Resort Casino.

Gobin was comfortable meeting state, national and world leaders; one highlight of his life was meeting the Dalai Lama April 12, 2008 during the Tibetan leader’s visit to Seattle. Gobin led his family in an offering of song at a Coast Salish reception with the Dalai Lama.

Gobin was preceded in death by his parents, a brother, four sisters, a daughter and a grandson.

He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Delores. Their family includes their children, Steve and Karen Gobin, Patti Gobin and Mike Alva, Joe and Kim Gobin, Glen and Karen Gobin, and Tom and Christie Gobin; a sister and brother-in-law, Betty and George Taylor; sister-in-law, Beverly Gobin; brothers-in-law, Richard Schlosser and Glen Parks; 18 grandchildren and their spouses; 35 great-grandchildren plus one on the way; and many nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.

Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at