Travels with Kenny

In July 1974, the year U. S. District Court Judge George Boldt ruled on the American Indian treaty fishing rights case United States v. Washington – commonly known as the Boldt Decision – I was a cannery tender captain, buying salmon for Port Chatham Packing Company of Seattle, owned at the time by a pair of Norwegian brothers named Norman and Erling Nielsen. Port Chatham smoked salmon was known worldwide for its exceptional quality, and counted gourmet chef Julia Child among its steady customers.

The salmon I procured for Port Chatham came largely from Lummi (a.k.a. Lhaq ‘temish) and Samish Indians, who caught the Chinook salmon so prized by connoisseurs of the Nielsen’s Norwegian-style BALLARD LOX. Sometimes, when seas were rough off Cherry Point where they fished, I took my vessel into the Sandy Point Marina and tied up to a friend’s father’s private dock. The Marina is part of the Lummi Indian Reservation, so this was handy for all involved.

The problem, as I soon discovered, was that I was obligated to buy a license and pay a tax to the Lummi Tribe, which would make me less competitive in the prices I could offer to the fishermen. Operating in violation of this regulation is how I came to meet Ken Cooper, at the time a Lummi Nation fisheries patrol officer. Built like a Grizzly Bear, Ken did not need to persuade me that I would be wise to come along peacefully, to be heard in Lummi Tribal Court.

In July 1993, when I was managing litigation for the Watershed Defense Fund, our attorney and I appeared before the Washington State Shorelines Hearings Board in Olympia, and called on Lummi Nation water resources staff person Harriet Beale to testify about her knowledge of water quality issues. Later that summer, I went on vacation to the coastal village of La Push, located on the Quileute Indian Reservation. Walking around the village, I saw a beautiful carved canoe, and asked the owner if I could take a photo.

As he proudly posed next to it for a photo-op, I mentioned I knew a Lummi Indian by the name of Ken Cooper, who was from just down the coast at the Hoh Indian Reservation. Stunned by my comment, he said that Ken did not grow up at Hoh River, but grew up right next door, pointing at the small house just yards away. Learning of this, I sent the photo to the Lummi water resources office, where Ms. Beale worked alongside Ken Cooper, whom I received a call from a few days later.

When I answered the phone, Ken, who likely did not remember our encounter twenty years earlier, thanked me for the photo of his childhood friend — whom he had not seen in many years — and proceeded to tell me stories about living at La Push. Before he hung up, Ken said that the experience of receiving this photo out-of-the-blue was so emotional, that he had held his ceremonial drum while we talked.

In September 1995, U.S. Senator Slade Gorton – the former Washington Attorney General who lost the Boldt Decision case – went on a rampage of vengeance against Lummi Nation, threatening to drastically cut the federal funding they were entitled to by the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliot, in retaliation for Lummi Nation subjecting white Fee Land Owners on the reservation to water quality rules enacted by the Lummi Indian Governing Council. As special advisor to Washington Environmental Council president Sherilyn Wells, I observed the Lummi round dance in front of the Whatcom County Courthouse where Mrs. Wells spoke (alongside Lummi spiritual leader Ken Cooper), in denouncing Senator Gorton.

Attending the round dance — accompanied by Lummi Tribal drummers – was Lummi Nation staff attorney Shirley Leckman, and my Public Good Project associate, Paul de Armond. As I walked up the block to tell Paul and Shirley that I had just returned from the printer with copies of Paul’s report on anti-Indian developments in the region, I could hear Ken Cooper’s booming voice singing a holy song in the Lhaq ‘temish language.

On May 19, 2001 – after flying in from San Francisco, to where I had moved in 1998 — I attended the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force awards banquet, at which Kurt Russo of the Lummi Nation Sovereignty and Treaty Protection Office presented an award to Paul for “putting his life on the line” contributing to the apprehension of people engaged in intimidation of environmental advocates, Indian treaty proponents, and human rights activists. Joining Paul in receiving awards were my friend Linda Lyman, and posthumously, Ken Cooper.

In June 2005, I published a collection of my short stories titled Life as Festival, in which I included the stories Ken Cooper had told me in 1993, that I named Eye-to-Eye. In my story, I used the name ‘Benny’ instead of Kenny.

In October 2011, early one Sunday morning, I walked for tea and scones at the Fort Mason café and bookstore, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay. Browsing through the used books section, I spotted an intriguing title—The Heart of the Sky: Travels Among the Maya, by Peter Canby. Thinking that my friend Nina — who had adopted a Guatemalan Maya daughter while living and teaching in Oaxaca — might enjoy it, I purchased it and returned home. Enjoying the book, I nearly read it straight through, until I came to page 311, where to my utter surprise, I read the following passage:

Later, back in San Cristobal, I spoke with a member of the delegation of Northwest Indians that had been visiting Lacanja. The man, a six-foot-five-inch, 250-pound Lummi Indian from Washington State named Cha-das-skidum, or Ken Cooper in English, was concerned that the Lacandons were losing their forest and that this would affect their spiritual well-being.

“When they’re young”, he said, “all indigenous people go into the forest and stay there until the forest speaks to them, until they become part of it. When that happens, the forest shows them how to get out. It’s like you guys. You didn’t get out of the forest because you were tough or smart. You got out because the forest was ready to let you go.”

On April 17, 2013 — having received notice of an April 6 anti-Indian conference, held near the Lummi Indian Reservation – the Cascadia Weekly published my letter to the editor titled ‘Givers and Takers’ on page 4 of the Earth Day issue. According to Paul de Armond’s sister Claire, it was the last thing Paul read before passing away on April 20, and the last time he smiled. In the April 23 issue, Cascadia Weekly’s editor wrote a eulogy to Paul titled ‘A Giant Passes Through’.

On May 3, 2013, I received an email from a woman named Sandra Robson, who was involved in the fight against the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) at Cherry Point, a coal-export development opposed by Lummi Nation. Sandra was working closely with Sierra Club, as well as ReSources, a non-profit that successfully sued SSA Marine/Pacific International Terminals (parent of GPT) for violating the Clean Water Act, by illegally bulldozing an ancient Lummi burial ground and village site at Cherry Point.

On March 11, 2014, I got an email from a lady named Deborah Cruz, a Unitarian Universalist involved with Lummi Nation, who had read my May 5, 2013 article titled White Power on the Salish Sea: The Wall Street/Tea Party Convergence, published at IC Magazine. My article had been quoted in a January 2014 cover story by Sandra Robson at Whatcom Watch titled What Would Corporations Do? Native American Rights and the Gateway Pacific Terminal, with a footnote link that was forwarded to Ms. Cruz by Crina Hoyer at ReSources.

On March 12, 2016, Northwest Citizen presented Sandra Robson the Paul deArmond Citizen Journalism award. On April 1, 2016, Wrong Kind of Green published my special report titled Netwar at Cherry Point: White Power on the Salish Sea, a story about the pursuit of truth, democratic renewal, and the holy spirit.

In the concluding paragraph of my 2005 story Eye-to-Eye, I wrote the following about Ken Cooper:

A few years back, when Benny returned to the other world to share stories with his ancestors, I remembered these stories he told me over the phone one morning, while holding his drum and the photo I’d sent him of the new canoe carved by his childhood friend at La Push. He was thinking of maybe going back for a visit during the great gathering of tribal ocean paddlers from Canada and Washington that I’d told him I’d seen advertised while camping out there on vacation.

I don’t know if he made it back, but I like to think that he’s happy more people are starting to appreciate the values of cooperation, reciprocity, and sharing he grew up with. It would make him feel good.


2 comments on “Travels with Kenny

  1. […] The salmon I procured for Port Chatham came largely from Lummi (a.k.a. Lhaq ‘temish) and Samish Indians, who caught the Chinook salmon so prized by connoisseurs of the Nielsen’s Norwegian-style BALLARD LOX. Sometimes, when seas were rough off Cherry Point where they fished, I took my vessel into the Sandy Point Marina and tied up to a friend’s father’s private dock. […] […]

  2. […] Eye-to-Eye with a Lummi spiritual leader. […]

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