Lummi Nation Raises Next Generation of Stewards

From elementary school through young adulthood, Lummi Nation youth are learning about the natural resources that sustain their culture.

Lummi Nation School students from kindergarten through sixth grade are planting ocean spray shrubs beside the Wex’lium community longhouse. Known in the tribal language as tsingenilhch, the ironwood is fire-resistant when cut into the sticks used to cook salmon for traditional gatherings.

“By the time these kids graduate, the ocean spray they planted should be ready to harvest,”  said Sunshine Bob, language teacher for the school. “This is something we started last year to bring our kids back to our culture.”

Students also are learning to gather the shrubs and prepare the slengi, or fish roasting sticks.

Lummi policy representative Frank Bob spearheaded the youth outreach when he realized how many people in the tribal community were unaware of the work done by the Natural Resources department.

“Maybe we’ll spark an interest,” he said. “I’m hoping the kids will go home and tell their parents what they’re doing and it will open up the conversation.”

In May, high-school students accompanied tribal fishermen harvesting chinook salmon for the Lummi First Salmon Ceremony

“Some of these kids have never been fishing,” Bob said. “The culture is really changing.”

Meanwhile, other teens learned about efforts to restore degraded salmon habitat in the watershed. In partnership with the Whatcom Land Trust, Bob took several high-school juniors to Maple Creek, a tributary to the Nooksack River. The site was leveled years ago to create a Christmas tree farm. The land trust acquired the property and has been working with Lummi since 2002 to make it more fish and wildlife friendly.

“All species of Pacific salmon use Maple Creek,” said Eric Carabba, director of stewardship for the land trust.

Carabba pointed out the salmon fry swimming in a small stream that hadn’t existed when the area was flat farmland. The teens learned the importance of cool, clean water for salmon, and also helped plant willow stakes to create shade around the stream.

Accompanying the students to Maple Creek were Lonnie James and Chris Lewis, who are part of Lummi’s new Tribal Conservation Corps. The Americorps-affiliated program offers on-the-job training to tribal members between 17 and 30 years old.

James and Lewis described the program to the high-school students, in hopes of involving them in natural resources management after graduation.

“We’re getting paid to learn,” James said. “Everything we do is giving back. We work with live fish and shellfish at the hatcheries, water quality, tree planting and harvest management.”

The Tribal Conservation Corps grew out of a tree-planting program called “Welcome Salmon Home” in partnership with teens in the Lummi Youth Academy.

“Students finishing the youth academy asked me what they could do to keep working in natural resources,” Frank Bob said.

In its first year, the Conservation Corps has five members. The goal is for them to transition into full-time jobs at Lummi Natural Resources when they complete their service.

“Our hope is eventually to have tribal members in key management positions,” Bob said.

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