by Shirley L. Williams
It is an honor to share ‘A Reflection of Indigenous Public Health and our Chi’lange’lth (Inherent Birth Rights): From Resistance to Restoration to Protect the Salish Sea through the Spirit of the Sxwo’le for the Next Seven Generations’ with HazNet.
It is inspiring to see that HazNet is looking beyond the current system to civil society to seek measures for disaster resilience. As we have observed, the Coast Salish People lived simply on mother earth for tens of thousands of years with an understanding and respect for their sacred responsibility to protect their land, water, salmon, reef net, language and way of life, but in a little over one hundred years, any tourist visiting the Royal BC museum can see that it took but a century for colonization to cause near genocide to this region’s indigenous language, culture, freedom, way of life and ecological health.
After only a few generations disaster has set in, as we see the increasing rate in endocrine disruption, reproductive disorders, and cancers in both man and animal. The killer whale is said to only have 25 years to live and if it beaches itself it is treated like toxic waste. The salmon people are said to be at 10% or less natural stock. Their health reflects our health, and as our elders have told us, ‘they are our brothers and sisters and they are giving us a message.’ Their message is clear: without our environment, we do not have our health.
As a Community Medicine RN who resides with, is enrolled in and is employed by a federally recognized indigenous nation in the United States, I am concerned about how quickly the continuous violations to our inherent rights to clean food and water has affected our ecological health and what it will mean for the next seven generations if civil society does not move swiftly together across the international transboundary border to protect our resources. I have been told by my respected elder that this sacred responsibility is for each one of us to honor and if it is not supported it is cultural/spiritual genocide – for these are our gifts from the Creator.
It has been an honor to witness the resilience of indigenous leaders throughout the world in resisting the government’s foundational desire to ‘divide and conquer,’ and implementing the restoration of the ancestral way of knowing the power of ‘one mind and one heart.’
“American Indians have succeeded in the face of adversity”, yet these “successes and paths of resilience largely have been ignored by public health and health research communities.” (National Institute of Health, 2015).
Even though the memory banks of our indigenous people’s DNA are filled with the impacts of recent historical trauma due to the perpetual cycle of ambiguous loss which has led to adverse childhood experience, resilience shines through as they address the conventional government, societal mindset and systemic structure that continues to do more harm than good.
It has become apparent that the short term financial gain made by certain corporations and governments has had profound negative impacts on the long term safety/risk management of our ecological health and continues to promote an increased risk of disaster as evidenced by the last one hundred years in the Salish Sea territory of the Salt Water People. It appears, as we are faced with the impacts of the industrial flood and the stranded assets of the wealthy, there are signs of a paradigm shift as we begin to stand united as a common people to support the methodologies of our indigenous and grass root people of mother earth:
- In 2012, the US Department of Health and Human Services and National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities funded the Center for American Indian Resilience (CAIR). CAIR determined from a public health perspective they would research the models of resilience within NA/AI communities that are leading to successes through the use of, among others, collective memory, traditional based knowledge and digital story telling.
- On March 25, 2013, President Obama declared the San Juan Islands a National Monument. In Presidential Proclamation 8947, he called out the rich history of the Coast Salish People and the Sxwo’le (reef-net) and stated, “The protection of these lands in the San Juan Islands will maintain their historical and cultural significance and enhance their unique and varied natural and scientific resources, for the benefit of all.”
Lummi Reef-Net Revitalization
- In 2011 and 2016, both the United States and Canada announced their support for the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples.
- In 2014, the Canadian Supreme Court made a historic decision 8-0 that made it easier for aboriginals to establish title over their lands.
- In 2015, Senator John McCoy was able to pass Senate Bill 5433 making it mandatory that schools must teach Native American History in Washington State.
- In 2016, the Army Corp of Engineers ruled against the largest coal terminal to be placed in the ancestral territory of Lummi Nation, recognizing the negative impacts to the environment, and honoring the nation’s fishing treaty rights and ancestral site.
Based on Whiteswan Environmental’s presentation of ‘A Reflection of Indigenous Public Health and our Chi’lange’lth (Inherent Birth Rights): From Resistance to Restoration to Protect the Salish Sea through the Spirit of the Sxwo’le for the Next Seven Generations,’ WE offer these thoughts to ponder as WE hope to inspire a continued measure of resilience: as the Chi’lange’lth (Inherent Birth Rights) is superseding treaties in First Nation territories (Louise Mandell, Q.C. First Nation Aboriginal & Treaty Rights lawyer) and as our treaties and public trust doctrines are two essential tools to help protect our environment (Mary C. Woods, Environmental Law Scholar), we envision a Coast Salish Tribal Heritage Field Institute will forever allow our people to practice their treaty rights and inherent birth rights and in doing so, offer a measure of cultural, historical, scientific, and ecological health protection and sustainability that can be modeled across the United States and Canada as they also work with their community with one mind.
Shirley Williams (KASTLMUT) Community Medicine RN and President of Whiteswan Environmental, WE (One Mind for the Purpose of the Work) is a member and resident of the Lummi Nation. She is employed by the Lummi Tribal Health Clinic and has been working at the satellite medical office at the Lummi Youth Academy since 2008.
WE has moved swiftly across the international transboundary border to build relationships and provide education that supports intergenerational knowledge democracy amongst cultures who share stewardship of the Salish Sea. WE organized the Coast Salish Mini University, the historical storyboard dedication at the San Juan Island National Parks Centennial Celebration and are the vision keeper for the Coast Salish Tribal Heritage Field Institute and Interpretive Center.
WE hopes to inspire a continued measure of resilience and offers these thoughts to ponder: as the Chi’lange’lth (Inherent Birth Rights) is superseding treaties in First Nation territories (Louise Mandell, Q.C. First Nation Aboriginal & Treaty Rights lawyer) and as our treaties and public trust doctrines are two essential tools to help protect our environment (Mary C. Woods, Environmental Law Scholar), we envision a Coast Salish Tribal Heritage Field Institute will forever allow our people to practice their treaty rights and inherent birth rights and in doing so, offer a measure of cultural, historical, scientific, and ecological health protection and sustainability that can be modeled across the United States and Canada as they also work with their community with one mind.
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