Tulalips mourn and honor tribal elder Bernie Gobin

TULALIP — Bernie Gobin was honored Friday for the determination that helped American Indians take back their fishing rights and for his precise carvings, paintings and other artwork that he gave to his friends throughout his life.

But tears flowed among the hundreds of people who gathered at the Tulalip Tribes administration center when a video featuring the longtime tribal elder began.

“I ran to Jesus and he ran to meet me,” Gobin sang in the video, which was taken during one of his many musical performances at church services. “And what a day — what glad reunion when I discovered that he’d pardoned me.”

Gobin died at his Tulalip home on Monday. He was 79 years old.

The Rev. Patrick Twohy, a Catholic priest who has served Coast Salish communities for decades, read from the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus said that the hungry will be satisfied and that those who mourn will be comforted.

“These words make no sense at all except for men like Bernie,” Twohy said. “He brought all the teachings of Jesus to this place, and so the grieving are comforted. Those who have nothing have something. And those who had lost hope have found it.”

The funeral service was also a call to arms for a younger American Indian generation. Gobin was among those who blazed a trail that included appearances in a federal courtroom, where U.S. District Court Judge George Boldt ruled in 1974 that Indians were entitled to half the region’s fish harvest.

Billy Frank, a Nisqually tribal leader revered for his efforts to restore fish runs, warned the young people in the crowd that salmon would disappear if Indians didn’t continue their efforts. State and federal leaders didn’t have a plan to save the salmon until Indians insisted on it, he said.

“Don’t let them think they can run over the top of us,” Frank said. “This country is ours! All of it! And we will fight for it.”

Gobin was born in Darrington and was raised in Tulalip. He attended Marysville schools until seventh grade. When he was 15 years old, he used fake documents to enlist in the Army and was sent to Korea. Military officials sent him home when they discovered his real age.

He married Delores Young in 1950, when he was 20 years old. The couple raised five children. He left behind more than a dozen grandchildren, and 35 great-grandchildren.

Even though Gobin had little formal education, he was revered for his wisdom and visionary leadership. He built a small outdoor hatchery, using water and gravel from the nearby Tulalip Bay, before tribes were involved in fish biology. Tribal fishermen were limited in where they could fish at that time, so Gobin decided to use the hatchery to boost fish runs that would come through Tulalip Bay. In an era when many sport fishermen and politicians were opposed to tribal fishing rights, the hatchery drew criticism.

“I don’t think the state felt too good about a tribe getting a fish run,” said Dave Somers, a Snohomish County councilman who worked for the Tulalip Tribes’ natural resources department under Gobin in the late 1970s and 1980s.

“When it came to fishing rights, he was determined,” Somers said of Gobin.

The hatchery grew to become one of the most successful in the region and was named in Gobin’s honor.

Gobin was also known for his artwork. He painted drums, carved masks and rattles and bequeathed stone-studded canoe paddles to those he loved. His Tulalip home was filled with his own work and pieces from other artists. His children and grandchildren learned his skills; the route between the tribe’s official art and carving department near 116th Street and Gobin’s home deep in the reservation was well-worn.

Gobin traveled the country, even meeting with dignitaries in the White House and arguing on behalf of his tribe before federal judges, but his home was known as a place where anyone was welcome, and where anyone could learn.

“He had a Ph.D. in tribal politics, fishing, carving,” said Brian Cladoosby, a Swinomish tribal leader. “Universities can’t give out what he learned in his lifetime.”

Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422, kkapralos@heraldnet.com.

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