“Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove … even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as the swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch.”
– Chief Seattle
It’s fitting that President Biden is here on Chief Seattle’s lands on this Earth Day, as we confront the climate crisis and the other ecological emergencies that threaten our ways of life.
The Treaty of Point Elliott, signed by Chief Seattle, secured our peoples’ rights to fish and hunt and gather, and the courts have made clear – that means that marine habitats must be healthy enough to sustain those fisheries.
We applaud President Biden’s commitment to healthy forests. With a hotter climate, forests must be protected for their capacity to sequester carbon and also to shade the waterways that must remain cool if marine life is to survive.
In that spirit, while we celebrate the Biden Administration’s plans for restoring the broken infrastructure of this nation, we call for ecological restoration to be the top priority. Each road, bridge, and energy project must be constructed or rebuilt in a way that protects surrounding ecosystems as well as the climate.
Highways and bridges must include safe storm water filtering that prevent toxics from running off and polluting the Salish Sea, harming salmon and orca. And fish blocking culverts must be replaced.
We are reaching a point where polluted and degraded waterways and landscapes are permanently altering the living planet, and threatening us with extinction and marine dead zones, wildfires, smoke, and much worse for future generations.
The solutions to these crisis that will bring peace are those that are just. Solutions must protect the vulnerable as well as the resilient, the poor as well as the wealthy. Like Chief Seattle, we must never stop thinking about the impacts of these decisions on future generations, who have no voice unless we speak for them.
The planet cannot sustain ways of life that use up the living resources and dump waste at levels beyond the natural world’s capacity to recover. We are faced with a moral decision, brought most urgently to our attention by young people who are asking what sort of world we are leaving to them. We can’t sidestep that question any longer. The tipping point is here and it is now.
So let us celebrate this 2022 Earth Day keeping in mind the guidance offered by Chief Seattle and the sacrifices he and other Tribal elders made to assure the survival of generations to come.
As members of the seventh generation since his time on this Earth, we are grateful to him. Will the people of seven generations from now be equally grateful to us?
Much will depend on decisions made by the Biden administration and how they impact the waters, the land, and the climate.
By Suquamish Tribal Council: Leonard Forsman, chair, Joshua Bagley, vice-chair, Denita Holmes, treasurer, Windy Anderson, secretary, Luther (Jay) Mills III, Sammy Mabe, and Rich Purser.