Upper Skagit Tribe returns to Whidbey Island for clam dig

Both the Skagit Valley Herald and the Whidbey News-Times reported on the Upper Skagit Tribe’s return to a traditional clam-digging site at NAS Whidbey Island. Security protocols since Sept. 11, 2001 have prevented the tribe from holding its annual community clam dig on the naval base.

Skagit Valley Herald (subscription required):

OAK HARBOR — Upper Skagit Tribe member Beverly Lemen sorted live clams from a small pile of gray rocks and sand-filled shells. She piled the succulent butter clams into a plastic bucket.

With each shell that tribal members placed in their buckets Thursday, a tradition of harvesting at Forbes’ Point was renewed.

On the rocky spit of Forbes’ Point as it was exposed by the low tide, at least three generations dug for clams. Lemen, 63, and other tribal members were surrounded by relatives and friends. A fourth generation, Lemen’s octogenarian mother, had wanted to join the clam dig on Whidbey Island. But she remained at home because she was feeling poorly, her daughter said.

“I’m glad to be here for her,” Lemen said.

Forbes’ Point had been closed to the tribe since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. For security reasons, officials at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, like on American military installations elsewhere, closed off areas that had been accessible to civilians.

To return to the naval station for clams, tribal members submitted paperwork, and the Navy conducted background checks. On Thursday, the Upper Skagit brought several vans filled with people for the first time in six years.

Whidbey News-Times:

“It’s a big deal for us to return to this beach because this is one of the two beaches we were accessing prior to 9/11,” said Scott Schuyler, spokesman for the tribe. “To get access back is huge because it basically increases our area by 50 percent. It’s a big day for us.

“This is probably a one or two shot deal because of security protocol, but we’re very grateful.”

Cama Beach on Camano Island is the other area the tribe has been accessing.

Approximately 30 tribal members made the precarious trek down the steep stairs and traveled by boat to the beach that was slowly emerging as the tide receded.

For those physically able to dig, they dug. For some of the elders, their mere presence brought a palpable spirit to the gathering.

“One of the things about our culture, when it’s digging clams or whatever, it’s always the community that’s doing it,” Schuyler said. “We’re here to help each other. It’s not just one person, one family. Nobody’s really digging for themselves. We’re digging for everyone.”