Salish tribes gather at Tulalip to set common policy

This week, American Indian and Canadian First Nations leaders will hold talks in their own way: with stories, songs and bits of the rejuvenated Coast Salish languages.

The Tulalip Tribes are hosting the third annual Coast Salish Gathering, which brings together leaders of Coast Salish tribes, a region that stretches from north of Bella Coola, B.C., to as far south as Tillamook, Ore. Hundreds of leaders from the region have gathered in past years, and as many are expected to participate in this year’s gathering.

The gathering is scheduled to begin today and run through Friday.

“This will be a policy dialogue,” said Debra Lekanof, a Swinomish tribal employee and coordinator for the gathering.

The tribal leaders are expected to discuss environmental issues spanning the Salish Sea, the name commonly used in Indian Country for the waterway that flows from south of Seattle, through the San Juan Islands, and up into British Columbia. Officials from Washington state, British Columbia and the U.S. and Canadian federal governments have been invited to join the discussions.

The 2005 gathering was at the Jamestown S’Klallam Indian Reservation on the Olympic Peninsula, and the 2007 gathering was held in Duncan, B.C. There was no gathering in 2006.

The gathering is not open to the public, Lekanof said. Tribal leaders will likely discuss culturally sensitive information, and ancient traditions protected by tribal members may be practiced.

The gathering may result in a public announcement of agreements that have been made, but it’s not clear whether that announcement will be immediate.

Tribal leaders say the gathering is a chance for this continent’s indigenous groups to discuss issues important to them, without having to adhere to another culture’s methods of discussion and decision-making.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or

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