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'All Our Relations' Journey begins

Will Rut
Will Rutt

By Catherine Ferguson SNJM

The "All Our Relations Snake River Journey" will take place at seven venues in Washington, Idaho and Oregon from  Sept. 23 in Olympia and through Oct. 1 in Seattle.

There will be an event from 6 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 27, at the Northwest Museum of Art and Culture, 2316 W. First Ave. in Spokane. Other Inland Northwest gatherings are from 6 to 8 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 28, at the Moscow Contemporary, 414 S. Main St. in Moscow, and Friday, Sept. 29 and Saturday, Sept 30, at Hells Gate Park, 5100 Hells Gate Rd., in Lewiston.

This two-week, indigenous-led campaign in partnership with faith-based groups like Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power and Light (WAIPL) and the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center (IPJC) in Seattle, invites participants to be in solidarity with Northwest tribal communities' effort to protect salmon from extinction and restore their abundance by reestablishing a free-flowing Snake River. 

"The journey is all about relationship. Through our growing relationship with Se'Si'Le', the faith community was generously invited to be part of the movement to restore salmon in the Pacific Northwest and honor treaty rights between the U.S. government and sovereign tribes," said Will Rutt, executive director of IPJC, the contact person for the Spokane event..

"Se'Si'Le is an indigenous-led organization that uses ancestral knowledge to benefit Mother Earth. Its president, Jay Julius W'tot Lhem (Lummi), led IPJC's Youth Action Team in a story-telling workshop," said Will. "It was a step in our growing relationship." 

For the journey, Se'Li'Le designed an eight-foot-diameter, hand-crafted wood and iron sculpture created by Lummi Nation members A. Cyaltsa Finkbonner, artist, and Jewell James, master carver of the House of Tears Carvers. The sculpture represents a vision of All Our Relations.

During two-hour sessions, reflections and prayers will be offered by Se'Si'Le leaders, including Jay and vice president JoDe Goudy (Yakama) and other Indigenous leaders.

Jay said the Lummi Nation is being managed to extinction—just like salmon and Southern Resident killer whales. "If that sounds harsh, it is, because ecocide leads to genocide."

Spokane's faith community will be represented by Earth Ministries, the Faith Action Network (FAN) and IPJC Spokane members.

"FAN stands with Native  peoples along the path of the Snake and Columbia rivers in support of their treaty rights," said Elise DeGooyer, executive director of FAN. "All of us are impacted by the fate of the salmon. We want to lend our voices, presence and action as multifaith partners in support of our indigenous neighbors. Episcopal Bishop Gretchen Rehberg will bear that message on behalf of FAN in Spokane."

Will's comments echo the voices of the five Catholic bishops of Washington State in their November 2022 pastoral letter "Caring for Creation and the Common Good in the Lower Snake River Region."

"We must all come together to care for our common home. We urge federal and state policy makers to develop and implement a holistic plan for the Lower Snake River region that seeks input from the Original Peoples of Washington state as principal dialogue partners, as well as input from farmers, community members and concerned citizens," the bishops said.

They express particular concern for the common good in the Lower Snake River so it reflects "care for God's creation, treaties and rights of the Original Peoples of Washington state, and those who live and work in the Lower Snake River region."

The letter reiterates the points of the region's salmon peoples about the serious decline in salmon, the resulting endangerment of the Southern Resident orcas and the loss of biodiversity. They highlight the threat to the spiritual lifeways of the Original Peoples of the Northwest. 

The letter also urges federal and state policy makers to collaborate with impacted communities to develop "innovative, holistic and sustainable solutions" ensuring that the Lower Snake ecosystem and its neighboring communities can thrive. 

Chairman Shannon Wheeler of the Nez Perce Tribe explained the urgency: "Time is running out to protect our sacred salmon.This crisis threatens our way of life and violates our treaty rights. The federal government is failing to uphold the promises made to our ancestors when we ceded our lands."

According to Will, "The purpose of the journey is to inspire a narrative about how creation cares for us and how we need to care for creation. If the salmon disappear, then the salmon people disappear and, ultimately, we will all disappear. The hope is to build community, and to press the Biden Administration and our region's members of Congress to protect salmon from extinction and restore them to abundance." 

There will be a petition available urging breaching the Lower Snake River dams.

Earth Ministry/WAIPL sees the journey as a way to engage and mobilize Northwest people through intergenerational voices, ceremony, art, science, spirituality and cross-cultural collaboration to support the Indigenous-led movement to honor the spirit of a free-flowing Lower Snake River and restore its health for the salmon and the orca that depend on them.

"As people of faith, we are held to our faiths' moral standards and called to be leaders of integrity and conscience," said A.C. Churchill, executive director of Earth Ministry/WAIPL. "We have an ethical responsibility to support this Indigenous-led movement to protect our salmon and orca relations, and to hold the government accountable to treaty promises with Native Nations. Solidarity from the faith community helps amplify tribal leaders' message that the need to recover abundant salmon and orca is a spiritual, moral issue."

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, September 2023