Tulalips may join in unity treaty

TULALIP Leaders of the Tulalip Tribes may soon sign a treaty recognizing the independence of American Indian tribes and other indigenous communities from around the world.

Four Washington state tribes and three First Nations groups from Canada signed the United League of Indigenous Nations Treaty at a tribal gathering at the Lummi Nation near Bellingham in early August.

Now, drafters of the treaty are traveling around the country and the world to present the treaty to other indigenous groups, said Alan Parker, co-chairman of the Committee on Indigenous Nations Relations at the National Congress of American Indians.

Parker plans to travel to New Zealand and Australia next month to get signatures from indigenous communities there. There also are meetings scheduled to present the treaty to tribes in the Midwest.

The treaty is scheduled to be ratified in November at the annual convention of the National Congress of American Indians in Denver, Parker said.

A representative of the Tulalip Tribes attended the meeting at Lummi, but the treaty hasn’t been presented to the Tulalip Board of Directors, said Terry Williams, a tribal leader who handles the tribes’ international affairs.

Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon said the tribal board will consider the treaty this week.

“We definitely support the overall movement,” Sheldon said.

Parker’s team began drafting the treaty about four years ago. Tribal leaders were scheduled to negotiate the treaty’s terms at the meeting with the Lummi Nation this month, but several leaders said they were ready to sign the treaty right away.

“I think we had a pretty good consensus on the principles we wanted to go for, and some people said, ‘Let’s quit talking and start doing it,’” said Michael Marchand, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

Marchand signed the treaty on behalf of his people. Leaders of the Lummi Nation, the Makah Nation, the Hoh tribe and three First Nations groups in Canada also signed the document. Canadians refers to its country’s indigenous peoples as First Nations.

“That wasn’t expected, but the group reached an incredible level of willingness to trust each other,” Parker said.

The treaty is an extension of a document the Tulalips drafted more than 20 years ago in response to the Pacific Salmon Treaty, an agreement between the United States and Canada regarding salmon fisheries.

Tribes from Washington, Oregon and British Columbia signed that document, declaring their support for one another.

“There are family tribal ties between the British Columbia tribes and the Northwest tribes,” Williams said. “We wanted to make sure that no matter what happened in actions between our countries that it wouldn’t cause harm with our historical relationships.”

That document later was signed by indigenous groups from Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand, Williams said.

The treaty signed at Lummi was deliberately written so it can be applied in various contexts. The principles include an assertion that indigenous groups are inseparable from the natural world, and have a shared commitment to care for the environmental resources found within their traditional areas. Covenants among the signatories include collaborating on environmental issues and creating a foundation for business relationships among indigenous groups worldwide.

Marchand said the treaty may help Colville tribal members who have been forced to choose a nationality, even though their ancestors lived on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border.

“They’re telling our people that we’ve got to make a choice: Do we want to be Canadian Indian or United States Indian?” Marchand said. “Well, we don’t want to pick one. We don’t fit into that system.”

Marchand also hopes the treaty will garner the tribe support in its fight against Teck Cominco, Ltd., a British Columbia-based mining company the tribe accuses of contaminating the Columbia River. The tribe won a lawsuit in U.S. federal court last year, but Marchand said the company has yet to clean up the contaminants.

“I think international recognition of problems like this would be a first step,” Marchand said. “I don’t expect miracles to happen right away, but it’s a step along that trail.”

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

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