Lengthy Blaine-Lummi negotiations finally bear fruit
By Meg Olson
I first talked about this two years ago I was full of anger
and fear. Now Im full of excitement and anticipation,
said Lummi Indian Business Council chairman Willie Jones
as representatives from the tribe and the city met on Semiahmoo
spit to sign a long awaited settlement agreement.
The agreement was signed June 26 at the wastewater treatment plant expansion site where Lummi ancestral remains were unearthed during excavation work in July 1999. Construction of a new sewer treatment plant beside the citys old plant was halted by state and federal authorities after the on-site archaeologist failed to properly notify the tribe. Remains of approximately 30 individuals were found and fill from the site containing additional skeletal remains was dumped on private property.
Under the new agreement the Lummi Nation has access to the site to reinter the remains. Blaine will pay $1.25 million, which the citys insurance policy will cover, to help defray the expenses of recovering fragmentary remains from fill taken off the site and for whatever purposes the Lummi Nation deems appropriate. In return, the tribe acknowledges Blaines need to continue using the existing wastewater treatment plant until an alternate solution is found and drops all claims against the city, lifting the threat of a $30 million dollar tort claim filed last year.
I think its a win-win agreement that acknowledges the needs of both parties, said Blaine mayor Dieter Schugt.
Retired state supreme court judge Robert Utter, who worked as mediator between the two parties, drove five hours after a late night arrival from Prague to attend the signing. I wouldnt miss it, he said.
Utter said he was satisfied the long mediation process had yielded a lasting agreement that would lead to closer cooperation between the tribe and the city. Building trust was the biggest part, and that was a gradual process. The city came to appreciate the tribes cultural beliefs as they learned to understand them. The emotional damage to the tribe was enormous but the tribe came to realize the city didnt enter into it with bad intent.
Rose James, an elder from Vancouver Island known as Granny Rose, is working with the Lummi to repair the damage done when the remains were disturbed. We respect our elders. Even though theyre dead and gone we still look after them. Its sad to see the way their elders have been tortured smashed up by machines, she said. James said she visited the site as a young girl with elders from her own tribe, when there was a longhouse there instead of a sewer plant. These ones want to be put back in the same place, she said of the disturbed ancestors.
Members of the Lummi Nation have already begun preparing a portion of the excavation site for reinterment and Jones acknowledged their efforts. Theyre our front line, he said. Its hard work they do both physically and emotionally.
While paving the way for the Lummi to reinter their ancestral remains, the agreement also provides for continued use of the site by the city until a financially feasible alternative for treatment of municipal sewage is found, and acknowledges the need for limited upgrades. They are exploring other alternatives together that may offer a better way for everyone, Utter said.
Reached by telephone, U.S. Congressman Rick Larsen said the agreement would improve chances for federal funding of a regional sewer project. Bringing this to congress as a package makes it much more attractive, he said. Its an opportunity to resolve cultural and historical issues, environmental and water quality issues as well as practical issues. Larsen was doubtful that a federal appropriation was possible for 2002 this late in the budget process, but was optimistic for 2003. Im commited to helping Blaine and the region solve sewer problems and having this agreement in place makes it more attractive to sell for next year, he said.
By resolving the points of conflict between the tribe and the city, the agreement lays the groundwork for further cooperation.
This is a great moment, Jones said. This is bigger than just the sewer or the grave. Its a starting point. If we put our minds and hearts together we can do a heck of a lot more for our community. Were all living here. If we dont protect and improve it, itll fall apart. Im grateful to the city of Blaine and I want to see us taking steps together and working together. I love today.