Fifty years on since Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, school children today learn that everything is connected. Spray pesticides to control bugs, and you wipe out birds whose egg shells can no longer protect their offspring. Spray herbicides to control weeds, and cancer rates skyrocket.
Indian tribes on the Salish Sea have known this law of nature for some time; as guardians of where all life began, Coast Salish tribes like the Lummi are well aware of the consequences of the industrial way of life on their rich maritime ecosystem. The once abundant herring, salmon and Orca whales are now imperiled from past industrial development, endangered by present industrial practices, and threatened with extinction by industrial plans for the future.
At Cherry Point, within the territory of the Lummi Nation, is an aquatic reserve designated as such due to the abundance of dungeness crab and once abundant herring. As a nursery where these mainstays of the Salish diet spawn and hatch, there was good reason to maintain it in a pristine state–both for commercial and recreational fishing, as well as tourism. In many ways, it’s where all life began.
As noted in the November 28 issue of Cascadia Weekly, the endangered Chinook salmon live on herring, and the threatened Orcas live on Chinook. Thus, school children might observe, everything is connected. When the State of Washington allowed two oil refineries and an aluminum smelter to develop on the shoreline at Cherry Point, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that all life is vulnerable. When in 1972 there was a Cherry Point oil spill leading to genetic mutation of the herring and a precipitous decline in their biomass, the raucous gulls that feed on the spring spawn of herring were silenced. What you might call the Salish version of silent spring.
Today, while coal companies and shipping companies promote plans to turn Cherry Point into the largest coal export terminal in North America, the Lummi and Chinook and Orca of the Salish Sea are trying to hang on to the remnants of their former abundance. In Salish Bounty — a traveling food history exhibit of the Tulalip Tribes and the Burke Museum — Coast Salish food traditions that create good health are juxtaposed with the commodity foods and fast foods that supplanted the native diet of the Northwest tribes that inhabit the territory between Seattle and Vancouver and the Pacific Ocean.
As noted in an article at Indian Country Today, the new exhibit looks at food to explain the history of Northwest tribes and to imagine a future that revives the Coast Salish food traditions that support the good health of families and communities. More information on Coast Salish traditional plants and foods is available through Northwest Indian College.