Legislation Would Provide Permanent Protection to Samish Land

Legislation Would Provide Permanent Protection to Samish Land

Richard Walker

ANACORTES, Washington—The blessing came as the Samish Indian Nation prepared for its annual cultural day and general meeting.

At 6 a.m. on June 23, the people would go to the point on Deception Pass and honor Ko-Kwal-alwoot, she who married a sea being to guarantee abundant salmon runs for her people, and ask for a blessing, for a bountiful year of harvest from the land and sea.

Later that day they would learn that the Samish Indian Nation Homelands Act of 2012, H.R. 5992, had been introduced in Congress by Representative Rick Larsen, D-Bellingham. The bill will, if approved, put more than 95 acres of non-contiguous, Samish-owned ancestral land into federal trust for the Samish Nation.

The Samish Nation, a party to the Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855, is unique among indigenous nations in Washington State. The treaty established several reservations in the area, including nearby Swinomish, but many Samish chose to remain on islands in their ancestral areas, among them Fidalgo, Guemes and the San Juans. Samish was mistakenly left off of a BIA list of federally recognized indigenous nations in the 1960s, and subsequently was left out of a court ruling upholding treaty fishing rights. Samish won restoration of its federal recognition in 1996 and began acquiring land and working toward restoration of its treaty rights.

The sites covered by the bill are the Samish Nation administration complex, four parcels on 1.02 acre; the Samish Longhouse preschool and child care center, two parcels on .52 acre; 45.7 acres of agricultural land on Thomas Creek; 46 acres on seven parcels on Campbell Lake; and 3.57 acres of oyster beds on Mud Bay on Lopez Island.

The bill doesn’t include the 160.4-acre Fidalgo Bay Resort, which is Samish-owned but includes a street and trail owned by the City of Anacortes; Huckleberry Island, which was granted to Samish by the State of Washington with the provision that it remain open for public use; the Samish Health and Human Services building and property, which could be sold at a future date; and 15 acres on Highway 20 and Thompson Road in Anacortes. The Thompson Road land isn’t being included because gaming will not be allowed on land covered by the bill. The Samish Nation is exploring economic development opportunities at Thompson Road, including three acres for a gas station and convenience store.

In addition, the Samish Nation owns 78 acres already in trust at Campbell Lake. Samish also leases a site in downtown Anacortes for its Samish Gallery of Native Arts.

“This bill will help the Samish continue to build a solid foundation for economic growth, preserve vital community services, and give tribal members certainty about the tribe’s future,” said Larsen, who represents San Juan and Skagit counties in the U.S. House of Representatives. “By putting these lands into federal trust, we would protect vital services and economic centers for the Samish [Nation].”

Putting land into trust is important for a couple of reasons. First, “by putting it into trust, we will have sovereignty over our lands,” Samish Nation Chairman Tom Wooten said. “We can make decisions on how to best use our land. Right now, we have to go to the city and the county.”

In addition, if land is held in trust, it is not subject to property taxes—like all government-owned land, be it local, state or federal—the idea being that the money is instead directed toward public services and that government-owned land is public land owned and managed for public benefit. Samish has a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with the City of Anacortes for law enforcement and fire protection services on its lands. Wooten said the city was not concerned about Samish’s property being taken off the tax rolls because of its payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement.

Wooten said the Nation is working hard to develop job opportunities for Samish citizens and residents of neighboring communities.

“Representative Larsen has been a true partner in working with the tribe to make this goal a reality for our Tribe and the communities the tribe resides in,” Wooten said. “We deeply appreciate that he has introduced the Samish Indian Nation Homelands Act. The tribe also appreciates and acknowledges the relationship it shares with the City of Anacortes, Skagit County, San Juan County, and the state of Washington for their collaboration with us on this legislation and for their friendship and partnership. Working together, we can revitalize the area we all share in a way that allows for our next seven generations to grow and prosper for all that live here.”

The bill has been endorsed by the Anacortes mayor and City Council, the San Juan County Council, the Skagit County Board of Commissioners, state senators Mary Margaret Haugen and Kevin Ranker, and state representatives Kristine Lytton and Jeff Morris.

“The City of Anacortes and the Samish Indian Nation have a long history of partnering on issues affecting both governing bodies,” Anacortes Mayor Dean Maxwell said. “The City of Anacortes supports the Samish Indian Nation Homeland Act of 2012, which allows the Samish Indian Nation to convert five parcels into non-gaming trust status for housing, government and support services for the Tribe.”

Other First Governments in the region have made strategic land purchases to increase their cultural, economic, and environmental-protection opportunities in the last few years. Among them: The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe purchased Heronswood, a 15-acre estate and gardens established by noted horticulturalist Dan Hinkley. The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community now owns and, with the state, co-manages Kukutali Island, a nature preserve within the boundaries of the Swinomish reservation. The Muckleshoot Tribe owns Salish Lodge & Spa, located on Snoqualmie Falls 30 miles northeast of the Muckleshoot reservation.

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