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Billy Frank: Stillaguamish Tribe clean up a victory for treaty
Monday, June 7, 2010
"Our treaties with the U.S. government were supposed to guarantee that we Indians could continue to fish, gather shellfish and hunt as we always have. But sometimes, development and pollution deprive us of those rights. Take Port Susan, a protected bay where the Stillaguamish River meets Puget Sound. Traditionally, the Stillaguamish and Tulalip tribes harvested shellfish there. These days, the bay is surrounded by dairy farms, a heavily developed community called Warm Beach and three wastewater treatment plants. In 1987, the state Department of Health closed the area to shellfish harvest because of fecal coliform pollution. That's the stuff that's found in human and animal waste. Twelve years ago, the Stillaguamish Tribe made it a priority to get that bay cleaned up so that they could exercise their treaty right to gather shellfish there. They sampled water to find and fix the sources of contamination. They partnered with the Snohomish County Surface Water Division, Stillaguamish Diking District, the Snohomish County Conservation District and the Warm Beach community. The tribe shared its findings with the Snohomish County Health District, which investigated and corrected problems, such as leaky septic systems and illegal sewer hookups. The Stillaguamish Tribe looks forward to harvesting Port Susan shellfish in the near future. Starting next year, the tribe plans to share this shellfish with tribal members and guests at their annual salmon ceremony. I'm so proud of the Stillaguamish Tribe for making this happen. The tribe hasn't been able to gather shellfish for decades. The reopening of the Port Susan shellfish beds gives the tribe the opportunity to gather traditional food that is so important to the health and culture of Indian people."