Alternative View on Access to Mainland and Negotiations

Tip Johnson submitted his view on the negotiations and possible deal as a comment to the latest ‘negotiation progress‘ post, but they seem more appropriate as a separate post.  Tip includes (not for the first time) a link to the petition to Congress to re-confirm (‘perfect’) the federal road right-of-way from the mainland at Gooseberry Pt to Lummi Island, with a call to action from islanders.   Wynne


Please forgive my impatience.

I don’t believe that any “deal” on terms such as have been discussed is worth approving. I would just say, “No, thank you.”

This is a very slippery slope, as should have been discovered in 1963 when the County agreed to lease payments of $150 per year for the dock as an expedient to end interminable negotiations with the Tribe.

They would have been well advised to make the effort to permanently settle the matter then.  Instead, the lease set a precedent that led to the 1982 consent decree, which emerged from a civil action that originally had nothing to do with the ferry. Now it is established habit that the County pay the Tribe to use a right-of-way approved by the federal government in 1920.

A lease along the present terms will oblige the County and islanders to forever negotiate future rates on any terms the Lummi Nation chooses to assert.  The structural problem of what authority applies remains intact and can be used again and again.

Islanders should now be aware that the County has no capability, or even interest, in defending the islanders’ rights.  Islanders should have perceived by now that our congressional delegation has elected to leave the matter for the Lummi Nation to decide.  Think of it.  Only two agencies have the authority to affirm the right-of-way:  Congress and the Tribe.  Our Congressfolk have said they won’t.  The Tribe certainly won’t.  That leaves the Tribe in the catbirds seat, capable of dictating any terms they wish.  Thank you, Larsen, Cantwell and Murray.

That doesn’t mean that islanders don’t have a right.  It just means that no one is willing to take up the fight.  But there are many members of congress who might be interested and concerned because the precedents sought by the Lummi Nation have far reaching implications across many states.

For well over a year, I have been amazed at islanders’ unbridled willingness to sit idle and see what happens, to hope for a solution without personal costs, to accept secret negotiations with outcomes they will pay for, but have no say in. Islanders should be driving this issue, not watching it in despair.

So if you find yourself biting your nails in anticipation of results you don’t relish, stop!  Chew on Congress instead.  It is time islanders let Congress know their perspectives on the issue.  So far they have mainly heard from Tribal lobbies.  There is no point in talking to our delegation.  Their positions are clear.  But that leaves five hundred and a score or more to contact.

At, I have assembled contact information for all members of Congress, and provided directions for how to simplify multiple contacts and the message.

But islanders must understand the importance of message discipline.  This is not an opportunity to promote a foot ferry to Fairhaven, high-speed catamarans, moving trucks with two canoes or a thousand other alternatives.  It is simply about a right established in 1920, in which the sole authority of the time noted that all requirements had been met.

Corollary points of interest regarding schools, emergency and medical care, the survival of essential services and the community of Lummi Island all can ring true to the core of this issue . . .

Only Congress can affirm the right-of-way and our representatives won’t help, so other members must be asked and informed.  They cannot be expected to act without being informed. No one but islanders can genuinely accomplish that end.  And if islanders choose not to make the effort, they should not complain about the results.

But a flurry of paper from fax machines must be noted and recorded.   The likelihood of our delegation being asked tough questions from their colleagues can only increase.  The possibility of a simple resolution affirming the right-of way becomes more likely and a result reflecting the will of the people on Lummi Island has the potential to arise.

It is worth a try.

10 thoughts on “Alternative View on Access to Mainland and Negotiations

  1. As is usual, Tip Johnson has the clear head on this issue. We would do well to follow his advice. The other negotiations thus far fade into irrelevance beside his astute and remarkable understanding of our current situation. Let’s get behind him, Islanders, and straighten out the situation since the county won’t or can’t. Robin Vaccarino

  2. Robin — and all others who agree with Tip — I think that what’s needed isn’t to “get behind” Tip but for you and other like-minded islanders to take the lead.

    Why not set up a group of islanders (and others in the county or elsewhere) to take on the practical work of publicizing & pushing the ‘right of way’ petition as hard as the PLIC Board pushed their petition favoring a lease. From many conversations with Tip, I know he has no need (or desire) to be the practical motivating force on this. In fact, as he’s said and written on numerous occasions, he can’t figure out why islanders haven’t stepped up to take this on rather than waiting for someone else (Tip? Pete Kremen? Sam Crawford? Prince Charming?) to do the work.

    If you or others take this on, I invite you to please write up what you’re doing and share it with everyone via the Ferry Forum, Brown Betty, etc. The Ferry Forum is a platform for all views of ‘all things ferry’, providing what’s written follows the Forum Rules.

  3. Tip is as exasperated as most of the Islanders. In addition to reaching out to Congress It is possible to embarrass the legislators of WA state and the Tribe leaders by going to the social media including commentators on the right and on the left… Hit them with – how American tax-paying citizens are being treated. Jan Bonaparte

  4. Thanks to Wynne and Colleen for providing us this forum for all views on ‘all things ferry’.

    There seems to be two camps forming. On one hand with Tip’s latest and very clear views that a right-of-way needs to be established and on the other with PLIC’s views that negotiations should establish a long-term lease. I have vaguely expressed my view in the past but with these two main views coming more into focus, and not having seen anything that resembles my view, I would like to express it here clearly in case there are others that also feel this way and do not feel represented by the two main camps.

    I feel the Lummi Nation has the right to decide who and what lands on their shores, and if they don’t want the ferry landing there they should not be forced or feel pressured to do so.

    I do not agree with PLIC that a long-term lease should be pursued at this point. The rates are far too expensive and all indications are that the more infrastructure the county establishes at G.P., the higher the rates will be in the future because we will be more reluctant to leave what we have built and paid for there.

    I do not agree that we have any “Rights”-of way or any other rights on the reservation as it is a sovereign nation. Yes, it has been the historical passage and landing, and yes, there was a caveat carved out of the original sovereign charter that white man could cross the Indian land, but just because it has been the tradition or even if we made laws about their land in the past, if it is wrong we should not continue. There is no eminent domain on another country. If the U.S. wanted to build a highway from Point Roberts to Blaine and run it through a village in Canada, we would not feel we had the right to do so. Neither do I think we have a right to the right-of-way in this case. So, while Tip makes good arguments not to pursue a lease, I don’t think that we should pursue a right-of-way either.

    If the Lummi Nation would like us not to continue to use Gooseberry Point we should discontinue use in reasonable time. We would need to find the best alternative that is the preference for the majority of islanders and let it cost what it will. Ferry fares will have to rise accordingly.

    Further, I think there needs to be some kind of survey or voting system established to take the opinions of all island residents, or maybe everyone that uses the ferry, as to what their preferences are, especially if we end up losing G.P. There must be some sort of online questionnaire system that would not be too difficult to establish. Or maybe a one vote per-use of the ferry.

    Thanks for reading,

    • Dude, the right-of-way was approved over ninety years ago, in much the same way as rights-of-ways for every other road citizens travel every day are determined. Are you really suggesting that if I somehow feel sovereign enough that I should be able to determine who lands on my property line despite established public ways? That’s even more anarchic than I sometimes feel! Very radical, but impractical.

    • There actually not sovereign Klayton,
      as every Lummi knows well,
      Judge Boldt’s 1st Citation of Chief Justice John Marshall, Cherokee Nation v. Georgia

      “…Though the Indians are acknowledged to have an unquestionable, and, heretofore, unquestioned right to the lands they occupy, until that right shall be extinguished by a voluntary cession to our government; yet it may well be doubted whether those tribes which reside within the acknowledged boundaries of the United States can, with strict accuracy, be denominated foreign nations. They may, more correctly, perhaps, be denominated domestic dependent nations. They occupy a territory to which we assert a title independent of their will, which must take effect in point of possession when their right of possession ceases. Meanwhile they are in a state of pupilage. Their relation to the United States resembles that of a ward to his guardian. They look to our government for protection; rely upon its kindness and its power; appeal to it for relief to their wants; and address the president as their great father. They and their country are considered by foreign nations, as well as by ourselves, as being so completely under the sovereignty and dominion of the United States, that any attempt to acquire their lands, or to form a political connexion with them, would be considered by all as an invasion of our territory, and an act of hostility.

      These considerations go far to support the opinion, that the framers of our constitution had not the Indian tribes in view, when they opened the courts of the union to controversies between a state or the citizens thereof, and foreign states.

      In considering this subject, the habits and usages of the Indians, in their intercourse with their white neighbours, ought not to be entirely disregarded. At the time the constitution was framed, the idea of appealing to an American court of justice for an assertion of right or a redress of wrong, had perhaps never entered the mind of an Indian or of his tribe. Their appeal was to the tomahawk, or to the government. This was well understood by the statesmen who framed the constitution of the United States, and might furnish some reason for omitting to enumerate them among the parties who might sue in the courts of the union. Be this as it may, the peculiar relations between the United States and the Indians occupying our territory are such, that we should feel much difficulty in considering them as designated by the term foreign state, were there no other part of the constitution which might shed light on the meaning of these words. But we think that in construing them, considerable aid is furnished by that clause in the eighth section of the third article; which empowers congress to “regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.”

      • Hi Todd,
        Yes, I guess that is true, the more I think about it the more I realize that the Lummi Nation can’t be considered completely sovereign, so I suppose I will have to adjust my thinking on that. Also, thanks for the quote, it is quite well written and very interesting.

        Sovereignty: supreme and independent power or authority in government as possessed or claimed by a state or community

        I admit that I am not well versed in the degree of sovereignty that the Lummi Nation possesses and Chief Justice Marshall’s quote shows that Native American sovereignty is not really a black and white issue even to him. I have read that the Lummi’s chose not to register for some kind of designation with the U.S. which would have moved them more toward being defined as a formal and legal Native American Tribe, so apparently it is not clear to them either. It always seems like it is a gray area in our laws that needs constant attention in order to get the definition correct.

        So should a right-of-way be pursued?
        I have not seen the right-of-way documents that Tip says show that one was established and approved, so I can’t speak intelligently to that either.

        In the end, I can’t say I have anything to base my stance on.

        I will just have to go with this: It does not feel right to force myself where I am not wanted.

  5. But as usual Tip,

    the 1982 civil action, which had nothing to do with the ferry, has everything to do with today.

    “The Court retains jurisdiction over this action and matters not disposed of in this Consent Decree.”

    Not only did we pay for the Countys Attorneys in this case, we paid for the Tribes too???

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