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Lummi Indian Nation honored in town’s centennial

FRIDAY HARBOR, Wash. – The scene would have been familiar to the ancestors of those in the canoe that pulled up to Friday Harbor’s shore July 3: The cedar-decorated bow, pullers wearing articles of clothing made from cedar, words of welcome spoken in the ancestral language, songs offered that had been handed down for generations.

The arrival of this canoe from the Lummi Indian Nation was significant in many ways.

San Juan Island is the place of origin for the Lummi people. This was the first landing of a Lummi canoe here since anyone could remember. The landing took place in the shadow of Coast Salish house posts, known as the “Portals of Welcome,” carved by Musqueam artist Susan Point. Friday Harbor Mayor David Jones welcomed the Lummi canoe family, noting “the Town of Friday Harbor is committed to honoring the Coast Salish people and culture.

“The Town of Friday Harbor supports a healthy, diverse community and is proud to host the Lummi Nation as this year’s grand marshal in the 2009 Fourth of July Parade. We welcome the Lummi Nation.”


Lutie Hillaire raises her hands in gratitude as her husband, James “Smitty” Hillaire, leads his canoe family in a song after landing in Friday Harbor for the island town’s Fourth of July celebration. They and other representatives of the Lummi Indian Nation served collectively as grand marshals of the town’s centennial Fourth of July Parade. The Lummi are the First People of the island.

Lummi Cultural Director James “Smitty” Hillaire seemed overwhelmed. He paused after a song and said, “I usually have songs coming out of my ears, but the moment caught me off guard.”

Lummi representatives were invited to be the special guests for Friday Harbor’s Fourth of July celebration, which took place during the town’s centennial. Doug Bison, an artist and member of the town’s Centennial Advisory Committee, thought it important to recognize and invite the participation of the island’s First People.

Bison, a great-grandson of Big Foot, the Miniconjou Lakota Sioux leader who was killed at Wounded Knee in 1890, helped coordinate Lummi’s participation in the Fourth of July celebration.

It wasn’t an easy commitment to keep. Hillaire and other members of his canoe family had been in a vehicle collision just before they were scheduled to travel to San Juan Island. There were two weddings at the Lummi reservation over the weekend; and some missed family obligations. The canoe’s arrival led three days of Lummi participation in the town’s celebration.

At the welcoming ceremony, Hillaire offered several songs, one more than 200 years old that he received from a grand-uncle. He said he was taught, “We need to be proud of who we are and where we come from, live in a good way, and share our culture.”

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His grandson, Ray Hillaire, took the opportunity to talk about environmental stewardship and love for one another. “We’re all here together as one people in this world. Keep your heart open with love. Share with your heart. You’ll receive lots – mostly love. And no one can take that away.”

Lummi artists working in different media exhibited their works in the Grange Hall. Charles Miller carved a 12-foot cedar tree on a downtown street; the tree was donated by Joe Romano of San Juan Island and delivered by Browne Lumber Co.

At the Grange, islanders met artists Shasta Little-Star Cano, Nanette Christianson, Candy Jefferson, Michelle Jefferson, Charmaine Lawrence, Misty Oldham, Michael Peters, Colby Schnackenberg, Janet Solomon, Maxine Stremler and Michael Thomas. Contemporary and traditional art expressions included carving, photography, prints and weaving.

On July 3, the San Juan Historical Museum hosted a presentation by Al Scott Johnnie of the Lummi Cultural Department. On July 4, Lummi representatives in regalia accompanied their canoe in the parade.

Although the Lummi people originated on San Juan Island, they and other original inhabitants of the island were forced to move beginning in 1872, when the territory dispute between the United States and Great Britain was settled and ownership was given to the U.S. by an arbitration panel.

Still, the Lummi Nation maintains cultural, historical and natural resources on the islands. In addition, Lummi owns Madrona Point, an ancestral village site on Orcas Island; and representatives serve on a board responsible for a cemetery at an ancient village site overlooking Spieden Channel.

Lummi representatives hope events like this continue to build bridges of understanding between Native and non-Native people, between the island’s current inhabitants and its original inhabitants.

After his canoe arrived on Friday Harbor’s shores, James Hillaire offered an old song of friendship. After singing it in the Lummi language, he translated the lyrics into English: “So long, my relative, my friend, until we meet again.”

Then he added, “And we will meet again.”

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