The marble walls of the Washington state Capitol reverberated with the roar of drums and voices Tuesday afternoon as Native American activists poured into Olympia to sound the bell on a number of political topics.
The eighth annual Native American Indian Lobby Day brought more than 100 activists to the Legislative Building, where talks and music dominated the proceedings.
“We started the lobby day because there was no representation at the Capitol for us,” said Elizabeth Satiacum, co-creator of the event and a member of the Puyallup Tribe. She also said that attendance has increased tenfold since the inaugural event in 2011.
Satiacum said there are currently 32 bills in the Legislature that directly affect tribal communities, and said her primary concerns regard salmon, child welfare, and missing and murdered indigenous women.
Robert Satiacum Jr., Elizabeth’s husband, performed a water ceremony in the Capitol’s rotunda, encircled and bolstered by the drummers and singers around him. He said water above all is most in need of protection, and that its importance transcends cultural boundaries.
“It’s all about the water,” Satiacum Jr. said, “You save the water and you save the planet.”
In describing the literal and figurative noise the group made in the center of the Capitol, Satiacum Jr. said the “Thunda in the Rotunda” was designed to attract the attention of as many legislators as possible.
“It’s about creating a fire, and holding those representatives’ and senators’ feet to that fire,” he said.
Senators Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, and John McCoy, D-Tulalip, joined Rep. JT Wilcox, R-Yelm, attended at the water ceremony, where each was personally honored by Satiacum Jr.
“I have been very moved in this circle,” Darneille said. “I don’t think these marble walls will ever forget your sounds today.”
Hunt, who represents Olympia, referenced the Squaxin Island Tribe that originally settled on the ground that now lies beneath the Capitol. The senator said he was proud to work on Squaxin land.
Voting rights were a major priority, Hunt said. He emphasized that Olympia was the capital city for all of Washington’s tribes, and urged political participation on their part.
“You can control and change and determine what happens in this building,” he said. “But only if you vote.”
Wilcox expressed solidarity with the tribal activists and described his upbringing on the banks of the Nisqually River, where he said he would take long walks with his great-grandfather. He said his family history is important, and that he imagines that familial legacy must be especially important to those who have 100 generations of relatives on the same land.
The representative described a common responsibility between he and the Nisqually tribes, and said that protecting the environment should be a priority. Wilcox said he hopes to someday walk with his grandchildren alongside that same river.
The program began in the morning, when participants gathered in the legislative building’s basement to listen to talks from various activists. A major subject of conversation was Puget Sound Energy’s plan to build a liquified natural gas facility in Tacoma.
The Puyallup Tribe stood to oppose the building of the facility with the group Redefine Tacoma, whose slogan reads “NO TO LNG IN THE 253,” a reference to Tacoma’s area code. The group claims that a liquified natural gas facility would endanger the lives of Tacoma’s citizens and generate pollution.
Lobby day participants marched through the legislative building to Gov. Jay Inslee’s office, where they dropped off a petition opposing the Tacoma facility’s construction. The Puyallup Water Warriors said the petition has more than 51,000 signatures.
“What we do now is going to affect the next thousand years,” said Willie Frank III, Nisqually tribal council member and son of treaty rights activist Billy Frank Jr. “We need to start looking at the big picture here, and that’s protecting our water for the future generations.”
This report was produced by the Olympia bureau of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.