In the 1990s, when Indian tribes and environmentalists united in protecting the watersheds of Washington state, the Washington Association of Realtors (WAR) and the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) organized and funded vigilante groups throughout the state to corrupt elections, undermine responsible government, and threaten activists and public officials. Some construction union leaders aided and abetted them in this political violence. Unaware of this subversive political undercurrent, many areas of the state were thrown into turmoil from which it took them ten years to recover. During that decade, destruction of the greater Puget Sound environment accelerated.
Were it not for the applied investigative research of people like Paul de Armond, Tarso Luis Ramos, and Rudolph Rÿser, the Anti-Indian, anti-environmentalist Wise Use Movement would have consolidated their gains in the region and very likely gotten human rights, indigenous, and environmental activists murdered. Instead, seven vigilantes went to prison.
Last month, the Coast Salish Gathering of indigenous leaders and environmental activists in this same region committed to action against further destruction of their watersheds. We only hope that this time they have the foresight, based on the experience of the 1990s, to prepare for the inevitable attack by the real estate development industry. Organizations like WAR and the BIAW, as well as the infamous Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise and One Nation United (a national Anti-Indian network), are likely already planning covert operations against the indigenous nations and their allies.
As the Mashantucket Pequot tribal chairman recently remarked, “When things work for Indian country, enemies coalesce. Those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” The road ahead is fraught with risk, he said, but it also contains unprecedented opportunities for tribes ”to chase beautiful things together and even defend ourselves more effectively than we have in the past.”
Applied investigative research is vital to that defense.