Grandmothers march to raise treaty awareness

Jack McNeel, Today correspondent
10/24/08

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho – Three grandmothers from the Makah Tribe are doing what they can to raise awareness of treaty rights and how those rights are not being honored by the federal government.

“Treaties are the supreme law of the land and judges in every state will adhere to it,” Dotti Chamblin said, quoting the law.

“A treaty is a contract, but it’s never been lived up to by the U.S. government. We want to give these papers to everybody because it’s all backed up with facts and truths, and it’s informational,” she said, holding several pages of information. “Anything to do with treaty rights, that’s what we’re fighting for and we’re fighting against all the government agents who do not honor their oath of office.

“We’re just humble grandparents and we’re marching because that’s all we can do. We want to make the public aware of how important it is and that you can do something. You can still make a statement; you can still have your say. We have a responsibility as a grandparent for those grandchildren. We have that responsibility because we have that knowledge, the strength and courage to do the fight.”

Chamblin – along with Gail Adams and Rhonda Markishtum, all Makah tribal members and all grandmothers – has been “marching” from the northwestern tip of Washington state, where the reservation lies, down through Washington and on to Portland, Ore. Along the way, they met with various other tribes. They went to Rep. Norm Dicks office in Port Angeles, Wash.; the city council; and commissioners and planners in Clallam County that are involved with Indian affairs. They went to Gov. Christine Gregoire’s office in Olympia, Wash., and the BIA office in Portland.

Turning west, they traveled to the Colville and Spokane reservations before reaching the Coeur d’Alene reservation in Idaho. The distances required much of the trip to be made by automobile, but they walked through the towns and other places they could.

Along the way, they talked with people on the streets as well as the various governmental offices, and passed out literature in a peaceful protest to alert others to the “atrocities” still being committed against indigenous peoples. The next stop was the Nez Perce reservation for the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board meeting, where they hoped to speak with representatives from 48 Northwestern tribes. They also hoped to attend the National Congress of American Indians convention in Phoenix.

One treaty violation the three elders spoke of concerned marine mammals. In a well-publicized case, five tribal members were charged with violating federal law after killing a gray whale in 2007. All have served time in jail or are on probation, even though the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay allows whaling rights for the tribe.

“When our tribe did the whaling, there was hateful racism and life threats,” Chamblin said. “The general public doesn’t realize all this land was ours and we ceded it to have health care and other things [whaling].”

Extending beyond the whaling issue is ocean pollution, caused at least in part by the dumping of barrels of nuclear waste and the aftermath of atomic testing. Sea lions are now too toxic for human consumption, according to information given the tribe, and seals cannot be harvested despite treaty promises. The women feel the loss of such traditional foods is at least partly responsible for many of the medical problems within the tribe.

Another issue of concern is domestic violence. That area has become Markishtum’s mission. Her life, and the life of her daughter and grandchild, has been devastated by charges and countercharges about domestic violence issues and legal matters within the tribe. She hopes her march will inspire her daughter and granddaughter to be strong, and hopes also to see a domestic violence center set up in Neah Bay.

As Chamblin summarized,  “We don’t work for the tribe, we’re not on the council, but we are enrolled members of the Makah Tribe and we’re taking a stand, a serious one.”

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