‘The People of the Clear Salt Water’ say Puget Sound community deserves better
SUQUAMISH, WA – The Suquamish Tribe announced its intention to sue King County for repeatedly releasing untreated or improperly treated sewage into the Puget Sound.
In a letter dated July 21, 2020, the Tribe gives King County officials 60 days’ notice of the Tribe’s intent to file a lawsuit for the county’s ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act and its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.
According to public records, King County discharged hundreds of thousands of gallons of untreated or improperly treated sewage from the West Point Wastewater Treatment Plant, located on the shores of Seattle’s Discovery Park, into Puget Sound in 2018 and 2019. King County is also responsible for a number of NPDES permit violations, discharging effluent wastewater into Puget Sound between 2015 and 2020. These discharges occurred at the West Point Treatment Plant, as well as other treatment facilities, and Combined Sewer Outfalls, on the shores of Centennial Park on Elliot Bay in downtown Seattle, and near Alki Beach in West Seattle.
“The waters of Puget Sound and the entire Salish Sea are the Tribe’s most treasured resource. We are obliged to protect these waters, not only for ourselves but for all who rely on them for healthy seafood, recreation, and cultural practices,” said Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman. “We acknowledge that King County has invested and will invest more to improve their wastewater treatment system, but the Suquamish Tribe and its members are frustrated by the ongoing sewage releases and King County’s other pollution violations in Puget Sound, which continue to harm marine water quality and the Tribe’s ability to exercise reserved treaty rights and engage in cultural activities. We are running out of time and need swifter action. We look forward to discussions with King County, through our long-standing government-to-government relationship, during this 60 day notice period.”
In the July 21 letter, the Suquamish Tribe notified King County that it is responsible for at least 11 significant illegal discharges of untreated sewage from the West Point Treatment plant into the Tribe’s treaty-protected fishing areas, with individual discharge events ranging from 50,000 gallons to 2.1 million gallons.
The Tribe also notified King County that between 2015 and 2020, it violated effluent wastewater discharge permit limits for pH and chlorine at the West Point Treatment Plant, as well as the Elliott West and Alki Combined Sewer Outfalls.
In 2013, King County entered into a Consent Decree with the State of Washington, and the Environmental Protection Agency to address serious and ongoing sewage discharges from its wastewater treatment facilities and combined sewer outfalls that were in violation of the Clean Water Act. Notwithstanding a series of enforcement actions against King County, Clean Water Act violations have continued, including major releases from the West Point Treatment Plant.
The Suquamish Tribe – known as “The People of the Clear Salt Water” in their Southern Lushootseed language – have fished and gathered shellfish in and near the Puget Sound since time immemorial. The waters of Elliott Bay and other waterways into which King County has been discharging untreated sewage make up much of the Tribe’s treaty-protected fishing and shellfish harvesting areas.
“This lawsuit is not just about how these dangerous spills affect the Suquamish Tribe,” said Chairman Forsman. “The entire Puget Sound community deserves clean water. The shellfish, the orca, and all sea life rely on clean water, and all of our children – and children’s children – deserve clean water.”
“This is why the Clean Water Act was created. It’s time for King County to increase their commitment to protecting our shared waters,” said Chairman Forsman.
A copy of the letter of intent is available here.
As protests sweep the U.S., Suquamish Tribal Council calls for justice for Stonechild Chiefstick and other victims of police violence
Suquamish Tribal Council members, elders, and youth joined hundreds who stood with signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “Native Lives Matter” along Highway 305 in Poulsbo on June 2. Emotions were raw because of the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Manny Ellis, and others, and because here in Kitsap County, prosecutors recently announced there would be no charges against Officer Craig Keller, the Poulsbo police officer who shot and killed Stonechild Chiefstick on July 3, 2019.
The protest was peaceful, passionate, and well attended with many drivers honking in support.
But when three Tribal Elders left the protest and went to downtown Poulsbo to have a quiet dinner, they encountered two men carrying military assault rifles patrolling an empty Front Street. The contrast between the peaceful protest on Highway 305 and the intimidating armed presence in downtown Poulsbo was striking.
Calls to a Poulsbo city council member revealed that the Poulsbo police knew there were armed individuals at several locations in town, and that, with the exception of one conversation with one of them, the police chose to do nothing – not question them, nor ask for identification and their purpose in being on the street near the protest. There was no check for warrants or criminal records or for extremist affiliations or for statements advocating violence. It was a stunning contrast to the treatment of Stonechild Chiefstick, who walked alone in Poulsbo’s waterfront park on July 3, was reported to police for acting strangely, and then shot and killed by Officer Keller.
The Second Amendment does not trump the First Amendment right to free expression and assembly, nor is open carry allowed in Washington State when used to intimidate others or when it creates alarm for the safety of others (RCW 9.14.270).
A Long History of Racism
This experience with an armed patrol in Poulsbo was a first for these Elders, but it was not the first time members of our community have experienced hostility and racial profiling in Poulsbo and North Kitsap County. Community members and visitors with darker skin report being followed in stores, bullied in local schools, and subjected to hostile comments on the street. Traffic signs leading into the reservation were riddled with bullet holes until they were replaced just recently. Anti-Indian graffiti was a constant reminder of the hostility aimed at Native people growing up in North Kitsap.
While the forms of racism have changed over the decades, it has never fully ceased.
The killing of George Floyd has lifted the veil on the brutality experienced by Black people across the nation. But the only thing that is new is the widespread use of phone cameras to document the brutality. African Americans, Native Americans, and other people of color have been subjected to white supremacist violence since European settlers first arrived on these shores bringing people captured and enslaved in Africa.
When settlers first arrived in 1851, Chief Seattle and his people greeted them and helped them during their first difficult winters here on the Salish Sea. Chief Seattle believed his people could benefit from the inevitable arrival of the Americans by engaging in the increased trade and commerce created by the new economy. He and other tribal leaders envisioned success in a new society built on relationships of equality and mutual respect.
Those hopes were dashed when promises made in the treaties went unfulfilled, when lands were stolen from tribal peoples, when Native people were banned from the city of Seattle and longhouses burned, including Old Man House, home of Chief Seattle, here in Suquamish.
Many were killed, including Chief Leschi, leader of the Nisqually people, who was hanged by a citizen government in 1858.
Chief Seattle signed the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855. The Treaty established the Port Madison Indian Reservation as our permanent home in exchange for the Tribe giving title to most of the Kitsap Peninsula to the U.S. government. But the federally appointed Indian agents sold much of our reserved land through the use of discriminatory federal laws. The U.S. military condemned 74 acres of our waterfront, inclusive of Old Man House, to build a military base. They never built the base, instead selling the land to a developer who subdivided into lots for vacation homes for visitors from Seattle.
Perhaps the most devastating of all was the taking of our children by force and coercion to attend distant boarding schools, where speaking our language or practicing our traditions was cruelly punished. This experience has created generational trauma that we are still addressing today.
Our ways of life are built on fishing, hunting, and gathering shellfish, and here, too, simply making a living required us to confront law enforcement and armed vigilantes attempting to prevent us from exercising our treaty rights. Tribal members were arrested, fired upon, and jailed for casting a net or digging shellfish on the beach. We have made progress since those days of conflict here in Kitsap County, as demonstrated by many of our elected leaders who recognize our Treaty rights and engage in government-to-government consultation and negotiations with us on a regular basis. Our hands go up to those elected officials. We have more work to do.
Black and Native Lives Matter
Like African-Americans, Native people have the highest rates of killing by police. So, as a group of us stood on Highway 305 last week, we were thinking about Black Lives lost and also Native Lives. We were thinking about George Floyd and also about Stonechild Chiefstick. We were thinking about Breonna Taylor, shot while she slept in her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky, and also about Suquamish Tribe descendant Jeanetta Riley, a mother of four, shot by police in 2014 in Sandpoint, Idaho, and about John T. Williams, a Nuu-chah-nulth woodcarver, shot by Seattle police in 2010. We were thinking about Manny Ellis, an African American man shot by police in Tacoma, and about Suquamish Tribal member Daniel Covarrubias, who reached for his cell phone and was shot by Tacoma police in 2015.
The brutality and inequities experienced by our people and by other communities of color divide and weaken our country.
We can do better. But real changes require more than “thoughts and prayers” for those killed and vague promises of reforms.
Real change means taking action to end the racial bias that infuses law enforcement at all levels in the United States and re-conceptualizing policing at a time when mental health challenges and domestic violence make up a large portion of the calls police are asked to respond to.
It means reforming school curriculum so the history of Native people, Black people, and other people of color is neither erased nor told only through the lens of European-Americans.
We call on all leaders – especially right here in North Kitsap — to embrace Chief Seattle’s vision that we live side-by-side, with equity, full participation, and rights for all the people of all the many cultures that make up our region.
— The Suquamish Tribal Council
Published in the Kitsap Sun
For the health and safety of the Tribal community, Suquamish Tribal Council has extended temporary remote government operations until June 7, 2020.
A limited number of staff members are available to respond to urgent issues. They can be reached via telephone at the numbers below, or via email. Please call (360) 598-4334 for general questions.
You may also contact our response team by sending emails to: firstname.lastname@example.org and check our Facebook page here. You can also check the COVID-19 Updates page on the official Suquamish Tribe website here.
The Suquamish Police Department
The Police Department lobby will be available to drop off child support payments, applications, housing payments, and other government-related paperwork. Staff and officers can also forward messages to other Tribal departments as needed.
Mon-Fri – 8am to 4:30pm
Front Desk: (360) 598-4334
Emergency: call or text 911
Telework and On-call Services
Communications: (360) 394-7184/7102
Community Development: (360) 394-8415
Emergency Work Orders: (360) 900-7050
Emergency Utilities: (360) 710-3223
Elders Meals: (360) 394-8413
Health Benefits: (360) 394-8466
Human Resources: (360) 394-8409
Human Services: (360) 394-8465
IT Help Desk: (360) 394-8485
Finance: (360) 394-8430
Fisheries: (360) 394-8438
Tribal Child Welfare: (360) 394-8480
Tribal Court: (360) 394-8697
Therapists are meeting with existing clients through phone/video sessions. A contact list of providers is available here.
Front desk: (360) 394-8558
Wellness Fax – (360) 598-1724
Emergency: call or text 911
Crises Hotline: (888) 910-0416
The Suquamish Tribal Council has extended the order on Temporary Remote Tribal Government Operations until May 18, 2020.
This action was taken to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The full resolution can viewed here.
For information about how to contact Tribal government staff or obtain services during this time, please check here.
An update from Suquamish Tribe Chairman Leonard Forsman on Tribal operations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
By Suquamish Tribal Council
(Published in the Kitsap Sun, April 23, 2020)
The news that Kitsap County will not press charges against the police officer who caused the death of Stonechild Chiefstick is of concern to the Suquamish Tribe. That local police were unable to manage an uncomfortable situation involving a person of color without violence has become all too common. We believe that this was a preventable homicide. This father of five, a valued member of our community, did not have to die.
There were other options. He could have been asked to leave the crowded July 3 gathering when it was evident that he was experiencing either a mental health or substance abuse episode. That opportunity was clearly present during the first encounter with the police, as shown in the police body cam footage.
Had police officers used de-escalation methods and more skillfully handled the interaction, the encounter could have ended peacefully. Stonechild Chiefstick’s children could still have their father. Poulsbo residents could have looked forward to future July 3rd celebrations free from the remembered trauma of a violent death. More of the Tribal community would have been able to visualize Poulsbo as a safe place to shop and visit.
While we recognize that the decision about whether to prosecute a particular officer for a particular act is a complex one, we have concerns that extend beyond the scope of this decision, in particular the failure to use the earlier contact as an opportunity to de-escalate the situation or to remove Chiefstick from the premises.
Officer Keller may not be charged, but he is still responsible. The other officers at the scene should also be held to account. In failing to de-escalate this situation, they contributed to the death of one man, the irreplaceable loss of a father, son, brother, and partner to others. And their actions traumatized an entire community.
We look forward to the Poulsbo Police Department’s internal review of this incident, and expect it will be thorough and objective, and address the behavior of all the officers at the scene. The Suquamish Tribe will continue to review the report, and will have further statements and/or actions based on this review.
Wishing you well on this, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
Chief Seattle (Suquamish/Duwamish), whose words are cited by environmentalists worldwide, said in 1854: “Yonder sky that has wept tears of compassion upon my people for centuries untold, and which to us appears changeless and eternal, may change.”
In his lifetime, Chief Seattle, witnessed extraordinary change. He was there when the first contact with a European explorer occurred. And decades later, as settlers poured into the Puget Sound region, he secured the sovereign territories we now call reservations.
He assured that we who are alive seven generations later would have the right to hunt and fish, and to visit the graves of our ancestors. On his gravesite here in Suquamish are embossed words from his famous speech.
“Our ancestors never forget this beautiful world that gave them being,” he said. “They still love its verdant valleys, its murmuring rivers, its magnificent mountains…and every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished.”
In 1970, the first Earth Day was launched by people who likewise treasured the natural world. Shortly after, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act were enacted, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created.
Today those accomplishments are under attack. EPA regulations that protect air, water, wetlands, and natural habitats are being weakened and dismantled.
The Suquamish Tribe has joined many other Tribes and organizations in the Northwest to fight this short-sighted and greed-driven deregulation. We oppose allowing polluters to make our seafood more toxic and permitting reckless development to block fish passage and destroy sensitive wetlands. This destruction is an affront to our treaty rights and the rights of all our people to protect our critical habitat.
“Today is fair. Tomorrow it may be overcast with clouds,” said Chief Seattle.
Today, as we shelter in place amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, the days do indeed feel dark. Few of us imagined this was to come. And yet it was not hard to see that things were changing. Like the pandemic, which at first seemed a distant threat, the climate crisis is suddenly upon us, and it is endangering sea life and oceans along with shorelines, glaciers, food supplies, and forests.
“Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as they swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people,” Chief Seattle said.
On this 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we should honor this land and celebrate its waters, and we should assess our way of life and its impacts on fragile ecosystems.
Together, we must push back against the President’s misguided deregulatory efforts, and renew the fight that was started 50 years ago with the same passion for life, and love for our lands and waters that got us this far.