Note: I am writing this description of last night’s meeting for our many (~1800) full or part-time fellow Lummi Island residents and property owners who couldn’t attend last night’s dinner (this is NOT a ‘media’ report!), as well as any Lummis who are curious about what happened. I took few notes and may have missed some things that happened not gotten the order of all events right. As always, corrections, additions and comments are welcome.
About 170 islanders attended the dinner -‘discussion’ hosted by Lummi Nation leaders last night. Many fewer Lummis attended. The format was not conducive to fostering interpersonal interactions or discussion between islanders and tribal members, in contrast to islanders’ expectations based on the Lummis’ advertising the dinner as an opportunity for ‘community connections.’
A group of Lummis offered a blessing song before dinner and another song afterward. An announcement was made that another lease negotiation meeting between tribal and county teams would occur next week, Wednesday, April 6.
After a bountiful salmon dinner (completed by deserts brought by islanders) everyone was offered the chance to submit questions in writing on 3X5 cards, questions that were to be addressed after slide presentation by Richard Jefferson, Director of Lummi Planning and a key member of the Lummi Tribal Ferry Task Force (negotiating team).
Mr. Jefferson’s presentation repeated the Lummi Nation’s talking points about the ferry, ferry negotiations and Haxton Road safety. He listed safety problems that tribal members believe are associated with ferry operations and traffic. He focused wholly on the Lummi’s perspective, without acknowledging the County’s spending over $6,000,000 tax dollars in recent years, plus $1.5 million more state and federal funds, to improve reservation road safety. Neither did Jefferson acknowledge the many public expressions of concern for safety on Haxton Road by individuals and groups of Lummi Islanders over the past year, or our desire to work together to improve safety.
At one point during the presentation, Jim Thomas, a respected Lummi Island elder and Tlingit native, rose and asked for the opportunity to speak, but he was not given the chance to do so, nor was any other islander.
Following his presentation, Mr. Jefferson addressed a few very broadly restated issues that Diana Bob, tribal lawyer and member of the Lummi negotiating team, had organized from the submitted cards.
One issue concerned Haxton Road safety, its sources and who should pay for improvements. Jefferson stressed that the Road was especially unsafe for pedestrians around Gooseberry Pt and that adding sidewalks was critical and really should be part of any Gooseberry dock lease package with the County, but that Lummis would find some way to install sidewalks because they are key to safety.
Mr Jefferson, when asked how many islanders have actually caused accidents, especially fatal ones, said that he could not recall that statistic. He said he could remember the names and family members of everyone who had been killed on Haxton Road.
Jefferson said that in recent negotiations, the county has come up with some new, creative and less costly ways to improve safety on Haxton, including possibly reducing the speed limit or adding a mini-roundabout at McKenzie Drive. In responding to the question of who should pay for such improvements, he said that it was easier to get funding for jointly submitted projects (tribe and county, for example).
He thanked the many islanders who commented on their appreciation of the tribe and its invitation to the dinner, and for sending letters and cards of support to the tribal leadership over the past year.
In responding to a request to acknowledge the many positive contributions of islanders to the Lummi Tribe over the years, Jefferson said the tribe employed many islanders and appreciated their help. One islander’s card was read noting that Polly Hanson had started and developed the NWIC library over many years, and that islanders were instrumental in getting a Head Start program for the tribe.
Jefferson responded to a request for more information about the marina in relationship to the ferry by saying it was a long-term goal of his and most tribal members to have a marina at Gooseberry Pt for fishermen and maybe sports fisherman or other boats, with or without the ferry. He described various designs his Planning Department has explored, including ones that could incorporate a county ferry landing.
In responding to islanders who expressed fear for their own safety if the ferry were required to go to Bellingham (i.e., if the tribe did close the Ferry on April 11), his response was that this was not the Lummi’s responsibility, but the County’s and those who operate the ferry.
Diana Bob said that the tribe is not blaming islanders for all road accidents. She also said that she feels that the County negotiating team is doing a good job of representing islanders’ interests.
At the very end, after many people had left, Steve Schneider asked (per the Lummi’s email inviting islanders to dinner) what the tribe’s plan for April 11th was, if negotiations hadn’t been concluded by then, since blocking the ferry would hurt islanders lives. Jefferson said that LIBC hadn’t yet talked about that and they still hope negotiations will conclude before April 11. The Lummis have initiated conversations with Ferndale school district about letting kids get to school and allowing emergency runs of the ferry.
Cliff Cultee, Chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council, concluded the meeting with appreciation for those who had helped organize, cook and arrange the meeting and dinner, the singers, and islanders for attending. He expressed hopes for other cross-community events in the future.
The meeting ended around 9 PM. The tribe provided bus shuttle service for the many islanders who had walked across. Many islanders caught the 9:20 ferry, and the ferry captain and crew kindly added an extra 9:40 run, allowing most islanders to get home before 10 PM.