Treaties between the United States and Indian Nations are legally binding contracts. Their neglect over the last two centuries has come to a head as treaty-protected resources like salmon are on the verge of extinction.
Just this week, Klamath River Basin Tribes on the Oregon-California border exercised their treaty guarantee to protect salmon by making a call on their water rights the salmon need to survive. A similar situation is imminent in the Nooksack River Basin on the Washington-British Columbia border, where Lummi Nation and the Nooksack Tribe have petitioned federal enforcement of their claim to water for endangered salmon.
In the Klamath Basin, up to half the ranchers will soon have their water pumps shut off, while the national wildlife refuge and other ranchers make cutbacks that allow them to keep operating. In the Nooksack Basin, tribal success in federal court would likely mean the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal coal export facility is dead in the water.
Not surprisingly, the Nooksack and Klamath Basins are where professional anti-Indian hatemongers from Citizens Equal Rights Alliance (CERA) recently held regional anti-Indian conferences. Aiding CERA in promoting anti-Indian messaging in both the Nooksack and Klamath regions was the Tea Party.
Countering messages of hate that fuels white rage and vigilante violence, at least in the Nooksack Basin, are Indian storytellers. While once a remote experience for white audiences, Indian storytellers are now available to churches and schools. Earlier this month, Lummi Nation took to the stage in Bellingham, Washington — the location where CERA launched its hate campaign on April 6 — to tell the saga of their tribe, their love for the Salish Sea, and the story of their treaty with the United States.
At present, the resolution of conflict over treaty resources comes down to a contest between stories of love and messages of hate. If enough of us choose the former, then maybe we have a chance at reconciliation.
In the meantime, we need to use our voices in communicating our visions. The time for neutral observers has long passed.