Spirit of Sxwo’le

A tribal warrior remembered

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

“There are community leaders, the people whose names you know. And there are people who lead communities, and who lead the leaders, and give them guidance and make them better. Sometimes you don’t know the names of those people outside the community. But inside the community, they’re known and they’re important.”

Darrell Hillaire told me that within hours of the passing of Larry George Kinley, who lost his battle with cancer February 13. When the well-known elder of Lummi Nation was chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council, Chairman Hillaire had Larry as his chief-of-staff, the man steadily alongside him in those important years, doing the critical work of tribe.

Larry, too, served on the LIBC for 19 years between the years of 1974-2001. He served as the longest running chairman.

Larry was a founding member of the Northwest Indian College Foundation and was the board’s president since 1988. He also served on two other boards, The National Center for Indian Enterprise Development and the Sycuan Tribal Development Corporation. His was a critical voice in the strengthening of Lummi School District.

“He strongly believed that an education is essential to the long term survival of us as a people, especially under our own terms,” Greg Masten, executive director of the foundation, said.

More fundamentally than that, Larry was a fisherman of a fishing people.

Through the hard years when tribes were often not able to lawfully exercise their treaty fishing rights, Larry served in a role similar to that of Nisqually elder Billy Frank, Jr.—pushing the limits of that law, challenging that law, and finding within that effort the joy of rediscovering traditional reefnetting techniques—sxwo’le—and sharing what he learned with new generations.

He explored and learned from the great traditional reefnetting sites across the Fraser Delta, on both sides of a geopolitical boundary line that—as far as fish are concerned—is an irrational administrative hindrance to their lives. He helped design a special kind of reefneeting boat and called her Spirit of Sxwo’le. The boat allowed him to monitor and document those techniques using underwater cameras and equipment, applying high-tech to a very old way of living. He built the aluminum hull craft in partnership with friends—Pat and Julie Pitsch—who launched their own boat building company, All American Marine.

Larry married his soulmate Eleanor Solomon Kinley in April, 1993, in Bullhead City, Arizona. They spent some time living in San Diego.

While he was there, he helped connect the tribes of southern California to their roots and voice, and assisted them in petitioning for changes in state law that helped make the tribes there financially whole. He played an integral part in the evolution of that state’s $38 billion dollar Indian gaming industry that brought revenues to a suffering California Tribal Nation.

He was known all over the West Coast.

“Larry was a builder of strong relationships and we in Yakutat, Alaska, knew him as a highliner fisherman and a truly good man and leader of his people,” Alaska native Byron Mallott said.

Always, though, Larry’s heart was in the Salish Sea.

“He was one of the best and he loved being on the water, which was his real home,” tribal members noted in a press release.

“Larry believed that to save the salmon we need to know who we are and where we came from. We as a people started with reef nets. He believed in getting our children on the water, and reefnetting provided a safe platform to teach from. Reefnetting brought our family and people full circle in fishing and culture. He fished salmon, herring, and halibut in Southeast Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. He also chased Dungeness on the Washington coast and squid in California.”

Larry was instrumental in advancing the largest tribal fishing fleet in the world—focused not only on the craft and joy, but the enablers, on treaty rights, self-governance and tribal sovereignty.

“He caused many positive changes in his lifetime,” tribal leaders said. “He is widely known as a true visionary, who exemplified real dedication with no fear of taking risks. Lummi has been blessed with many of those leaders.”

He joins them now, one of their beloved and honored tribal warriors.

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