The Gristle

A history of violence

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE: A federal court last month delivered a small taste of the future of water rights.

The long-anticipated ruling on tribal fishing rights was handed down March 29 by U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez in Seattle is aimed at ensuring the tribes have fish to catch. The decision requires the state to immediately accelerate more than $2.4 billion in repairs to culverts that run beneath state roads and block access to some 1,000 miles of salmon habitat. Martinez ruled in 2007 that Washington was violating tribal treaty rights by failing to protect salmon runs. The rulings are predicated on the landmark 1974 Boldt decision, which upheld the rights of tribes to fish. The logical extension of the 1974 decision—often referred to as Boldt II—would ensure fish have sufficient water and habitat to allow tribes access to their rights.

“Our treaty-reserved right to harvest salmon also includes the right to have those salmon protected so that they are available for harvest, not only by the tribes, but by everyone who lives here,” said Billy Frank, Jr., Nisqually tribal member and chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

Water law is complicated, a jumbled mix of common law and state statutes, but boils down to a few basic concepts. Foremost among them, a senior water right trumps and cannot be reduced by a junior or subordinate water right. A water right restricts a property right; without access to water, you cannot fully use the property. And the tribes hold a senior, sovereign right to water; and they hold treaty rights to property.

The conclusion is enough to stir fear and anger in the hearts of holders of junior and subordinate rights, particularly those living in rural areas. And fear and anger, precursors of hate, are the most powerful political motivators.

Over the weekend of April 6, the Northwest Round-Up Regional Educational Conference held a meeting at the Lakeway Inn in Bellingham,  sponsored by one of the foremost national anti-Indian organizations in the United States. Citizens Equal Rights Alliance, along with its affiliated foundation, is one of several anti-Indian organizations operating in Washington state. 

CERA vice chair Butch Cranford of Plymouth, Calif., and CERA board member Elaine Willman from Hobart, Wis., were featured speakers at the Bellingham conference on Federal Indian Policy Issues. In 2006, Willman, then living in Toppenish, Wash., was CERA president.

The essential topic of the conference was stripping the tribes of their federal treaty rights, a necessary precursor to seizing and plundering tribal property.

Local organizers for the anti-Indian conference were CERA board member Tom Williams, of Lynden, and Skip Richards, a Bellingham consultant with a 20-year history of anti-Indian organizing as both a property-rights advocate and a collaborator with Christian Patriot militias.

The event was heavily promoted through the Whatcom Tea Party mailing list and through rightwing talk radio programming on KGMI, and must therefore be understood for what it is: An organizing tool for the extreme political right in coming local elections. Roughly 70 county residents attended the conference.

Commenting on similar anti-Indian groups operating around the country, researcher Dean Chavers notes, “Labeling themselves as ‘citizen’s rights’ organizations, these groups barely conceal their hate for Indians in general and their scorn and derision for tribal councils. One of their main planks is trying to assert that they are not subject to the jurisdictions of tribes—even though their property may be in the middle of an Indian reservation.”

Indeed, many of the most virulent sponsors of anti-Indian rhetoric in Whatcom County are residents of Lummi fee lands, where they either own the land or hold 99-year leases on it, subject to Lummi senior water claims. A second tier are the absentee landowners who use the shore property as vacation homes. Next are third- and fourth-generation farmers with subordinate water claims, and the sport and commercial fishermen diminished by Boldt.

Dwarfing these groups, however, are thousands of potential voters activated through the politics of ressentiment, a blending resentment and hostility directed at the perceived cause of one’s frustration, attempting to assign a face of blame for one’s losses, made most plain in “white rage.” In Whatcom County, a pattern of heedlessness in the protection of resources and resource lands has created the zero-sum game of winners and losers, in which junior and subordinate rights are imperiled by senior rights. Wound up, these foot soldiers can be set loose to win elections.

Stoking and organizing hate in order to achieve political objectives is what effective operatives like Richards are all about.

In 1996, at the height of militia organizing in Whatcom County, Richards noted in an interview with High Country News that he needed to know only two things in politics, “Who to threaten and who to bribe.”

Through most of the ’90s, the extreme right in Whatcom County was organized through a rising tide of Christian Patriot militias, where Richards played an organizing role. The 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the growing interest of federal authorities in the nexus of militias and domestic terrorism quieted the most vocal county elements; and in any case the local building industry and realtor associations were equipped to carry political water through most of the following decade. The reversal of their fortunes, both through the collapse of the housing market and court rulings restricting the political organizing of these associations, has perhaps supplanted greed with fear and anger as central organizing tools for the extreme right.

Fortunate for Richards, in Whatcom County all three in various blends always work.

Note: This column is humbly dedicated to the memory of researcher Paul de Armond who passed away this week from a long illness. Paul exhaustively detailed the activities of the far right and militias through his Public Good project. He will be missed.

ICU Roof #2
Past Columns
Napkin Plan

November 15, 2017

Less Wave Than Slosh

November 8, 2017

Statistics of Shame

November 1, 2017

Cashing Out, Cashing In

October 25, 2017

A Creeping Paralysis

October 18, 2017

Fire and Water

October 11, 2017

Blockadia

September 27, 2017

Ounce of Prevention

September 20, 2017

Dwelling On It

September 13, 2017

Keeping the Dream Alive

September 6, 2017

A Bridge Too Far?

August 23, 2017

The Missing Middle

August 16, 2017

The Last, Best Solution

August 9, 2017

Fire and Water III

August 2, 2017

Fire and Water II

July 26, 2017

Fire and Water

July 19, 2017

Some Assembly Required

July 12, 2017

Good, Bad, Ugly

July 5, 2017

Zero Hour

June 28, 2017

Standoff

June 21, 2017

Events
Today
Home for the Holidays

5:00pm|Ferndale Events Center

The 39 Steps

7:00pm|Sehome High School Little Theatre

Little Women

7:00pm|Ferndale High School

Peter and the Star Catcher

7:00pm|Squalicum High School

Romeo, You Idiot!

7:30pm|Heiner Theater

Fools

7:30pm|Mount Baker High School

Craft Bazaar

9:00am|American Legion Post #43

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Meridian Street

Hot Cider & Cool Art

10:00am|Morgan Block Studios

Used Book Sale

10:00am|Everson Library

Red Barn Handpicked Holiday Market

12:00pm|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Holiday Gifts from the Kitchen

3:00pm|Lynden Library, Ferndale Library

It's Where the Sidewalk Ends

6:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

New Music, New Dance

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

The Big Short One-Act Festival

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Bellingham Repertory Dance's Emerge

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Backyard Brawl

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

VFW Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Hall

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Pancake Feed

8:00am|VFW Post 1585

Holiday Bazaar

9:00am|Hillcrest Chapel

Christmas in the Woods

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Acme Elementary School

Turkey Trot

9:00am|Squalicum Creek Park

Climate Reality

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

South Fork Winterfest

10:00am|Van Zandt Community Hall

Fall Gardening

10:00am|Lynden Library

Cheese Fest

10:00am|Everybody's Store

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Rexville Grange Holiday Art Show

10:00am|Rexville Grange

Holiday Farmers Market

10:00am|Port of Anacortes Transit Shed Event Center

Lynden Book Club

10:30am|Everson Library

Salmon Sighting

12:00pm|Haynie Creek

Conquering Writer's Block

2:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Fishboy Holiday Show

2:00pm|FishBoy Gallery

NaNoWriMo and Indie Publishing

3:00pm|Everson Library

Skagit Wine & Beer Festival

3:00pm|Eaglemont

Homeless Summit and Cold Weather Giveaway

3:00pm|Maritime Heritage Park

i.e. artists talk

3:30pm|i.e. gallery

Small Works Opening

4:00pm|Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park

Smith & Vallee Artist Talk

4:00pm| Smith & Vallee Gallery

WA 129 Poetry Reading

6:00pm|Maple Hall

Giving from the Heart

7:00pm|Depot Art Center

A Light in the Darkness

7:00pm|Church of the Assumption

Welcome Home Celebration

7:00pm|Village Books

Ruach Consort

7:00pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Eagles Hall

Michael Kaeshammer

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Legends of the Blues V

7:30pm|Byrnes Performing Arts Center

Trove
Tomorrow
Peter and the Star Catcher

7:00pm|Squalicum High School

Fools

7:30pm|Mount Baker High School

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Meridian Street

Bellingham Repertory Dance's Emerge

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Rexville Grange Holiday Art Show

10:00am|Rexville Grange

Cheese Fest

10:00am|Everybody's Store

Holiday Farmers Market

10:00am|Port of Anacortes Transit Shed Event Center

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Getting in on the act

1:00pm

Sound of Music Singalong

1:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

A Musical Thanksgiving

2:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Harmony from Discord with Whatcom Symphony Orchestra

3:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

The 25th Hour

4:00pm|Village Books

Southside Community Meal

5:00pm|Our Saviour's Lutheran Church

Way North Comedy Showcase

7:00pm|Farmstrong Brewing Co.

Rutie Dornfeld, John Miller

7:00pm|YWCA Ballroom

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Monday
Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Meridian Street

Wander + Camber Beer Dinner

6:30pm|Camber Cafe

Rocks & Gems

7:00pm|Bloedel Donovan Community Building

Guffawingham

9:30pm|Green Frog

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