Day to Remember
by Ellen Murphy
Ellen Murphy is a practitioner and supporter of community efforts toward conscious nonviolence, social equity and environmental justice. She teaches conscious nonviolence in various writings and settings.
by Ellen Murphy
I knew that Friday, September 21, was important for having been declared the International Day of Peace by the United Nations, a day of cease fire, and that the Whatcom Peace and Justice Center would be hosting a peace march and a moving event that night. What I did not know was just how important that day would turn out to be.
Invitation to a Sacred Obligation
At the Friday Veterans for Peace breakfast there was news. The Lummi Nation had invited people to join them in witness to their ceremonial statement on Xwe’ chi’ eXen (Cherry Point), once the site of a Lummi village, a reef net site, (their unique fishing technology), and a kelp harvesting site, and now the center of a controversial plan for the largest coal-shipping terminal in North America. A car pool was hastily put together. We knew this would be momentous. Cherry Point is a place of great historical, cultural and spiritual significance for the Lummi Nation, a fact made clear by Hereditary Chief Bill James. No translation was needed for the witnesses to understand his message as a reflection of the words on a sign in the sand that said “A Sacred Obligation.”
We heard stories. We shared in the Blessing of the Waters ceremony, so beautiful that tears were falling into the cups of water we’d been given, and even nature’s witnesses, the ducks, gulls, great strands of bull kelp, and a leaping fish seemed to press in close to hear Ramona James lead the Lummi youth and the crowd in a message to the water, a message of love and appreciation for all it does for us and the earth. We were told to work together, for “When we work alone, we work harder; but when we work together, it becomes easier, and we get it done.” Lummi children came forward holding canoe paddles, and were instructed to never forget, just as the elders had been told long ago, their sacred obligation to protect the land and fishing grounds, the sea, the shore and the living creatures, “... all the way to Cherry Point.”
Burning of the Check
During the drumming and singing and salmon dinner, I noticed a lone fire pit off to the south of the beach. Its meaning became clear as a giant check made out to the Lummi Nation for untold millions, and stamped NON NEGOTIABLE, was carried to the pit and placed over the fire as elders in ceremonial blankets watched it slowly tremble and parch and then burst into flames against the Salish Sea. As it burned, I picked up a piece of dried eel grass, the grass that harbors the aquatic reserve of the spawning herring that feed the salmon that feed the orca whales, and tossed it into the fire as my offering. It joined with all the offerings in the smoke, and the smoke said: this sacred water, this holy shore, this land with ancestral burial grounds, will not be destroyed by a terminal for 48 million tons per year of coal to be shipped on colossal cape-sized ships, 450 of them, coming and going, then to be burned into the atmosphere. This toxic machine will not command everything, everything alive, everything inspirited with what once lived, everything that hopes for a future, to struggle, then to surrender, and die. That’s what the cedar smoke said.
But there was yet more import to this day. Back in town, the word was out that the Federal Register of September 21 had announced the scoping period would now begin for the environmental impact statement on the terminal, a time in which citizens will work very hard to declare their insistence on a scope as wide and deep as the fishing grounds at Cherry Point. Today was the International Day of Peace, but this battle had just begun. Later, at the evening peace gathering, we hoped for a cease fire of the weapons of war, but the fire of the sacred obligation was lit and witnessed, and would continue to burn.
As the Kulshan chorus sang at the end of the peace event “I remember, I believe,” I did remember something that happened as I was walking back down the Cherry Point road, wishing I had been able to thank someone. A young Lummi man came by, the corners of his mouth painted salmon red, down to the bottom of his chin. “Today there were people here,” he said, “but ten thousand signed a petition. Next time there could be thousands here.” I felt the power of the sacred obligation, and thought it could happen. Cedar smoke was still in the wind, and my hands went out, moving up and down, palms inward, as the Lummi people do to express agreement and gratitude, and to say,
“Hi’swke.” Thank you.
Editor’s Note: Whatcom Watch went to press on the same day as the newly announced second Lummi Nation ceremonial event at Cherry Point, October 8, 2012. That event will be covered in a subsequent edition. For additional information, see www.treatyprotection.org