A wise elder of the human tribe is mourned

  • Thu Jul 12th, 2012 5:02pm
  • News

By Scott North

The world is a poorer place with the July 1 passing of Donna Cooper.

A beloved elder of the Tulalip Tribes, Donna quietly embodied wisdom, courage and love for community. She left her mark in ways that stretch beyond the Tulalip Indian Reservation, where she spent most of her 75 years.

I met her nearly a decade ago. She was leading her family in a sad quest for answers about the death of her grandson, Mylo Harvey, in a 2002 struggle with Everett police.

Donna said little during that first meeting. When she did speak, though, her daughters paid close attention. The reasons were clear: They not only respected her, but what Donna had to say was incisive, challenging. She clearly was a deep thinker. And like the gifted teacher she was, she posed questions that seemed simple but, when pondered, opened doors to greater truths.

Her grandson’s death was a tragedy compounded in part by the city’s confrontational response to the family’s concerns. It took roughly five years and a half-million-dollar settlement in a federal civil rights lawsuit to sort out. Police ultimately sought training to improve their response when they encounter people who, for whatever reason, aren’t behaving rationally. The good that Donna’s family accomplished will be measured in the stories we won’t need to write.

It wasn’t the first time her family rallied to a challenge. At her memorial service earlier this month, mourners were reminded how Donna’s husband, Port Cooper, started a family fish-buying business in the 1970s. That came after the 1974 Boldt decision which affirmed tribal treaty rights to salmon and shellfish that previously had been harvested by white fishermen. At the time, some refused to buy fish caught by tribal nets. Port, who was white, started the company as a means to navigate around the controversy and open new markets.

Patrick Twohy, a Jesuit priest who for years ministered on Tulalip, told the gathering that Donna was remarkable for her resilience and blessed by the love of her large family.

She fought a long battle with diabetes. In 1997, the gift of a kidney from her son, Wayne Gonzales, gave her 15 more years.

She spent some of that precious time talking with me.

What an honor.