Medicine Creek treaty tribes welcomed activists to the Protect Mother Earth Conference earlier this summer. The conference was hosted by the Nisqually Indian Tribe and the Wa-He-Lut Indian School.

“The work going on here today is very important,” said David Bean, vice-chair of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians. “For the last few years, we’ve been supporting one another. We traveled to Standing Rock. There were folks that traveled here to protect our homelands.”

The conference was sponsored by the Indigenous Environmental Network and Indigenous Tribal Action. Sessions included topics ranging from the history of nonviolent action, the how-tos of rapid response media, and traditional plants.

The kind of activism that conference attendees practice has a long history among treaty tribes. In fact, the conference’s primary location was Frank’s Landing, the epicenter of the treaty rights protests in the 1960s and ’70s.

“It has meaning, being at Frank’s Landing,” said Hanford McCloud, a member of the Nisqually Tribal Council. “This place has a lot of power. Being here today is what our ancestors wanted from us.”

“We are who we are waiting for. No one else is going to do this work,” McCloud said.

“My favorite part of being an elected official is hanging out with the people, the boots on the ground people, the people who are doing the work,” said Annette Bryant, a member of the Puyallup tribal council. “It is just an honor and privilege to be here with so many of you that care about Mother Earth.”

The welcoming speakers also put a focus on the battles waged today by Northwest treaty tribes. For the last two years, the Puyallup Tribe has been fighting a proposed liquified natural gas (LNG) plant on Commencement Bay.

“It is just in the wrong place,” Bryant said of the LNG plant. “There’s only one ship in the Tacoma area that may need these 8 million gallons of LNG. That’s the fight we’re in.”

Willie Frank III, a member of the Nisqually Tribal Council, described the treaty tribes’ recent victory in the culvert case. “We shouldn’t have had to go the Supreme Court to get that win,” he said. “Repairing culverts is something the state of Washington should have already been doing. They want to challenge our treaty rights. They want to challenge our sovereignty.”

The ongoing loss of salmon habitat in western Washington is having an enormous impact on the treaty tribes’ way of life. “Every year it has gotten harder for us to go fishing, to exercise our treaty rights,” Frank said. “Fishing is our way of life, that is our culture. Once we lose that, we lose who are as natives.”

Annette Bryan, Puyallup tribal council member Annette Bryan, welcomes attendees to the Protect Mother Earth Conference. Photo: Debbie Preston, Nisqually Indian Tribe.