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Natasha Brennan
McClatchy Northwest
nbrennan@mcclatchy.com

In celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, communities across Washington state came together to honor Native peoples, their diverse histories and cultures.

Streamed live from the Lummi Nation Wex’liem Community Building near Bellingham, Children of the Setting Sun Productions hosted a virtual gathering via Zoom and Facebook.

“We didn’t come here to gather in a politically correct way. We came here as one — to gather as salmon people, to gather as Indigenous people, to share who we are,” said Jay Julius, former chairman of the Lummi Nation and chief strategist for Children of the Setting Sun Productions.

Featuring cultural performances from the WestShore Canoe Family and Lhaq’temish Singers and with remarks from Tribal leaders, the event focused on Indigenous resiliency, culture, climate activism and the protection of salmon. 

“Before the settlers came, there was no border between our families... I think one of the most important things to understand is our people lived off the land. We are the land,” said Gwendolyn Point of the Stó:lō Nation, a First Nations people located in what is now known as British Columbia.

With speakers from across the Pacific Northwest and Canada, the event highlighted that Indigenous communities were present in this land long before the U.S. and Canada were created.

“Animals and fish and water and air do not have borders... we’re all Indian nations,” said Steve Solomon of Lummi Nation.

Santana Rabang, – who is Lummi, Nooksack and the First Nations Shxwhay Village – emcees the Indigenous Peoples Day celebration hosted by the Children of the Setting Sun Productions at the Wex'liem Community Building in Lummi Nation near Bellingham, Wash., Monday, Oct. 11, 2021. The event, streamed via Zoom and Facebook, highlighted the contributions and diverse cultures of Indigenous peoples as well as the need for climate action. (Photo by The Bellingham Herald)

The event opened with a song, “Survivors of the Flood” composed by Antone George for WestShore.

“When we sing and we dance and we pray, in those times our ancestors are here with us and that drum really represents their heartbeat,” said Emcee Santana Rabang, who is Lummi, Nooksack and First Nations from the Shxway Village.

The speakers also discussed the Indian boarding school system in both the U.S. and Canada and the discovery of now more than 1,000 bodies of Indigenous children at or near the Canadian schools.

“Our children — which were our parents and grandparents — went to these institutions they called schools, but truly those places were a place of genocide,” said Wayne Christian, chief of the Shuswap Nation.

Christian shared how his mother attended Kamloops Indian Residental School in Kamloops, British Columbia, where earlier this year the remains of 215 children were found.

“On May 27, 2021, the children woke up the world. Their voices all across Turtle Island: ‘They found us. They found us.’ And all the Indigenous people felt that pain and their agony,” he said. “I want to say to all of you that are survivors of the residential schools — or what I call veterans of this war against our children — I want to thank you for your courage, your strength, your vision, but most importantly your resiliency to continue on to be who we are.”

The event also highlighted Children of the Setting Sun’s “The Salmon People Project,” a multifaceted effort to be conducted over three years aimed to help Tribes reverse the devastating impact of salmon loss.

“I think about all of us being salmon people and what we have survived as people — pandemics, colonization and residential school... The voice of my mother always comes in and she says, ‘We’re not here because we suffered, we are here because we came from the strongest of people. And not that those who perished were not strong, they helped us along. They gave everything so we can be here. And I think of salmon in that way,” said Shelly Boyd, a citizen of the Sinixt/Arrow Lake band of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

The organization is in the process of raising at least $1.5 million for the project.

“We all share a common bond, a common work, that is yet to be completed,“ said Darrell Hillaire, executive director of Children of the Setting Sun and former Lummi Nation chairman. “We need each and every one of you for this fight, this big fight. We can join in a lot of different ways, but most importantly is what you carry in your heart.”

Children of the Setting Sun Productions Executive Director Darrell Hillaire gives a speech of thanks, "Hy'shqe," the Indigenous Peoples Day celebration hosted by the Children of the Setting Sun Productions at the Wex'liem Community Building in Lummi Nation near Bellingham, Wash., Monday, Oct. 11, 2021. The event, streamed via Zoom and Facebook, highlighted the contributions and diverse cultures of Indigenous peoples as well as the need for climate action. (Photo by The Bellingham Herald)

On Oct. 8, President Biden signed a proclamation declaring Oct. 11, 2021, Indigenous Peoples Day — a first in the U.S.

“I’m glad to see President Biden acknowledge the painful history and horrors Indigenous people have endured for generations through efforts to displace, assimilate, and eliminate Native cultures and communities,” said U.S. Senator Patty Murray in a news release. 

“As we take time to observe this Indigenous People’s Day, may we honor and celebrate the Native peoples that are such an integral part of our history, culture and future — especially here in Washington state. As we recover from a pandemic that has led to devastating health and economic consequences in Indian Country, we must continue working to right the wrongs of our history by recognizing Indigenous peoples’ inherent sovereignty, honoring Tribal treaty rights, and making long-overdue investments in Tribal communities — I will continue to stand firm as a voice for Washington state’s Tribal governments and people.”

Other Indigenous Peoples’ Day events included a virtual event featuring Matika Wilbur of the Swinomish and Tulalip Tribes, who spoke about her work on Project 562, a documentary dedicated to changing the way we see Native America. The event — “Changing Who We Are” — was hosted by Northwest Indian College, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Education Department, Lhaq’temish Foundation, Western Washington University, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham Technical College, Bellingham Public Schools and the city of Bellingham via Zoom.

The eighth annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Seattle: Honoring & Celebrating event in Seattle continues Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebrations with in-person and virtual events throughout the week.

Bellingham Herald logo

Natasha Brennan covers Indigenous Affairs for Northwest McClatchy Newspapers. She’s a member of the Report for America corps. 

This story was republished with permission as part of AP Storyshare.