Margaret Agnes Cagey-Greene, who chaired the Samish Nation during its successful fight to restore its federal recognition, is being remembered as a great traditional leader who was a voice for her people and was mentor to many.
Greene was killed in a vehicle collision on April 5, 19 days before her 94th birthday. She was a passenger in a vehicle driven by her daughter. The vehicle was struck on the passenger side while crossing an intersection on the Lummi Reservation, where Greene lived.
“She carried her [leadership] with a lot of respect and honor,” former Lummi Nation chairman Darrell Hillaire said April 8 during a procession to the Lummi smokehouse for a ceremony in memory of his aunt. “She’ll be remembered as one of our great traditional leaders.”
Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew said in another interview, “She cared for all of her people. Her guidance will be missed.”
Greene’s Samish forebears were among those who relocated to the Lummi or Swinomish reservations after the Treaty of Point Elliott was signed in 1855. Many Samish, who felt the treaty had promised them a reservation of their own, chose to remain on their ancestral homelands on Fidalgo, Guemes, and Samish islands.
Like the non-reservation Samish, she and her family never gave up their Samish identity and remained involved in efforts to preserve Samish sovereignty.
In 1969, that effort became a fight for survival when the BIA revised its list of federally recognized indigenous nations and a clerk omitted Samish from the list. BIA started treating the Samish government as unrecognized and began denying Samish individuals benefits.
During Greene’s tenure as chairwoman of the Samish Nation, from 1971-74, Samish was accepted as a member of the Small Tribes Organization of Western Washington, the Indian Health Service determined that the Samish were eligible for services, and Samish filed to intervene in U.S. v. Washington, which had upheld the rights of Coast Salish peoples to harvest fish and shellfish in their “usual and accustomed” areas.
In 1975, Samish petitioned for restoration of its federal recognition and, in 1979, resubmitted its petition under a newly established federal acknowledgment process. In 1979, U.S. District Court Judge George H. Boldt, whose ruling in U.S. v. Washington is commonly known as the Boldt decision, denied Samish’s petition to exercise off-reservation treaty fishing rights, ruling that U.S. v. Washington did not apply to landless Tribes. Samish’s appeal of Boldt’s ruling was denied two years later. Then, in 1982 and 1987, the BIA denied Samish’s petitions for re-recognition.
Greene again served as chairwoman of the Samish Nation from 1987 to 1996. During that time, Samish petitioned the federal government for listing as an “endangered species” and filed suit in federal court to overturn the BIA’s denial of federal re-recognition.
"Our Samish people have survived," Greene told New York Times reporter Tim Egan in 1992. "We have conquered the urban area. We have people working at Boeing. We have teachers. We have pilots. But we still want our Indian identity."
In 1996 – 141 years after Samish leaders and others signed the treaty that made the Puget Sound region available for newcomers – Samish’s relationship with the U.S. was restored. Three federal cases bear her name: Greene v. Lujan, No. C89-645Z, 1992 WL 533059; Greene v. United States, 996 F.2d 973 (9th Cir.1993), and Greene v. Babbitt, 64 F.3d 1266,1269 (9th Cir. 1995).
In the ensuing years, Samish has acquired more than 350 acres of land, including Fidalgo Bay Resort, Huckleberry Island, and land now held in trust on Campbell Lake; brought ancestral objects home from museums; and established several cultural education programs. Samish government departments include Cultural Resources, Education, Elders, Head Start/ELC, Health, Housing, Social Services, Natural Resources, and Vocational Rehabilitation.
In summer 2015, a new Washington state ferry was named the MV Samish.
“We wouldn’t be where we are today without the work of Margaret and others,” Samish Nation Chairman Tom Wooten said on April 7. “Her views were a little different than mine, but our goals were the same: persevere, protect and preserve.”
The post-contact period had been catastrophic for the Samish people — introduced diseases that decimated the Samish population, the loss of land to homesteaders and settlers, and the relocation to area reservations.
“The reality is, we are spread out over Indian country and non-Indian country. She helped solidify us,” Wooten said. “She persevered for her people.”
While she was tough, as would be expected of a leader who took on the U.S. government, she was also gentle and caring. She was “a light” in the family, Hillaire said. Indeed, after Greene’s passing, a relative said he asked his sisters to share one of her teachings of the woman they called “Aunt Sis” and “they cried and laughed of her and shared lots of her.” In her obituary, her family wrote that she was the “voice of the people” and “mentor to many.”
A fond memory for Wooten: Greene and her brother, Jack, attended a gathering for elders a couple of years ago at Samish; “They always came down and acknowledged their Samish heritage,” Wooten said. Wooten drummed and sang a song and Greene stood and raised her hands, acknowledging his song.
“That meant a lot to me,” he said.
Greene was born on April 24, 1922 to Agnes Veronica Hillaire and Joseph Elmer Cagey. She earned a bachelor of arts in Native American studies at the Evergreen State College and received an honorary degree from Northwest Indian College. In addition to chairing Samish, she taught at Lummi Nation School and was a fisherwoman.
According to her online obituary, she is survived by her sons, Richard, John , George, and Joel Greene; daughter, Jacqueline Greene-Jefferson; brother, Jack Cagey, sister, Vicki Cagey; and numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren, and nieces and nephews.
Her passing was preceded by her husband, Edmund Greene; her parents; sons, Peter Victor and Edmund Greene Jr.; daughter, Donna Greene-Gaona; brothers, Samuel Cagey Sr., William Cagey, George Cagey, Elmer Cagey, Virgil Cagey, Louie Washington, Joseph Washington; sisters, Clara Cagey, Mary Cagey, and Katherine Oreiro-Tally; grandson, Steven Michael Greene; and granddaughter, Lindsey Greene.