Erik Lee, candidate for state Senate from Washington’s 22nd Legislative District.
Courtesy Washington Secretary of State site
Erik Lee, candidate for state Senate from Washington’s 22nd Legislative District.

Emotional Senate Candidate Finds Healing in Canoe Journey

Richard Walker

The Northwest Native culture of loving, caring and sharing so moved Erik Lee, candidate for state Senate from Washington’s 22nd Legislative District, that he trembled when he spoke about the 2016 Canoe Journey/Paddle to Nisqually at an August 5 event welcoming Bernie Sanders delegates back from the Democratic National Convention.

Lee became so emotional he dropped an F-bomb when talking about the Nisqually people’s loss of land to the U.S. Army, but he recovered and ended his remarks to enthusiastic applause.

Lee had attended a gathering of the Medicine Creek Treaty Tribes July 31 at the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. The gathering took place as part of the Canoe Journey, two days before the primary election, and Lee refers to pre-election anxiety and how the gathering lifted his feelings of unrest.

A video of his remarks was uploaded onto YouTube.

“[It was] 162 years since all the Medicine Creek Tribes were down in the Nisqually Valley,” Lee said. “There was a ceremony there. I got to sit down with some Native elder women and have food and it was great. It was a beautiful day.

“I found myself going down to and finding comfort in the drum beats and the dances and the ancient songs … It was like ‘Drumbeat Xanax’ for me, I’m telling you, because the anxiety was gone.

“I’m looking at the beautiful ancient movements of these dancers, and hearing these sorrowful songs … and then celebration and joy and the children joining in. It was beautiful. It was the only place I found peace. So, I kept going back there …

“It didn’t strike me till this morning – and I don’t mean to diminish anything anyone is going through or what anyone went through in Philly and what we’re going through as a nation – but it struck me this morning that I’m finding comfort in people whose land was stolen, whose children were taken from their homes and put in reeducation schools. The Nisqually Tribe, who was moved up on the hill and told they couldn’t fish anymore, and then told not only can you not be here anymore, we’re moving you because we’re putting the f------ Army base here and you have to move, and now you’re farmers, you’re no longer fisher folk.

“They were stolen from, they were lied to. They signed treaties with territorial governors who spoke on the behalf of sitting presidents, and they were robbed and their children were stolen. They were discriminated against and they still are, but here they are welcoming us onto their land for free – come, enjoy, dance with us. They invite us out to dance with them. That is strength, that is resilience, and that’s something we’ve got to learn from.”

The audience applauded enthusiastically.

“These people suffered generations and generations and generations of pain, agony, lies, misery and fail. And what happens? They dance graciously and they welcome everyone who wants to sing and drum and eat and partake onto the floor and welcome you with open arms. Please go visit them.”

Lee then read a statement from Deborah Parker, a Sanders delegate and former vice chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes. She wrote about the ongoing campaign for income equality, better access to higher education, voting rights, and environmental rights.

“We should not be coerced into believing something which is incorrect, immoral or unjust,” she wrote. “Freedom and democracy should mean we have a fair say in a way of life which is sacred to our belief systems. I encourage each person … to always question and search for a better way of life.”

Lee finished third of four candidates with 15 percent of the vote in the primary and didn’t advance to the November 8 general election, but is continuing as a write-in candidate.

A self-proclaimed “Berniecrat,” Lee supports raising the minimum wage, development of alternative energy, reform of the banking system, sun-setting corporate tax breaks, and establishing a single-payer healthcare system which includes full dental and mental health coverage.

Lee is budget manager and fiscal analyst for the University of Washington. He has degrees in political economy and public administration from UW. He provided community outreach and support for the Washington Indian Civil Rights Commission, of which his wife is president.

Parker, the former Tulalip Tribes vice chairwoman, supports Lee. “He's pretty amazing,” she wrote in a text message. “He honors Native Americans with [his] compassion.” She said she sees other candidates following Sen. Sanders’ lead regarding Indigenous Peoples. “Bernie really allowed others to acknowledge the ill treatment of Native Americans and the need to honor our vision.”

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