Veterans Day in Indian Country

Tulalip veterans, Vietnam and forward

Tulalip veterans, Vietnam and forward

Since moving back to Seattle, I have meant to get up to the Tulalip Tribes reservation, to check out the major developments since I last visited for work and to visit friends there. One huge change is economic. Fifteen years ago, there was a bingo hall right off an exit from I-5. Now there is the Tulalip Casino Resort, which offers an upscale hotel, spa, concerts and other live shows, and several cafes and restaurants in addition to the full gaming spectrum. We started our visit at the casino both to enjoy a good lunch and because money spent there supports local and tribal employment, education, healthcare, and cultural preservation.

But the highlight of the day was the Hibulb Cultural Center, also owned and operated by the Tribes. Earlier in the day, several events for veterans and their families had been held. Military service has been a matter of pride for Native American communities since before the US even recognized tribal members as American citizens (in 1924).  This aspect of the Tulalip Tribes’ history and culture is well-represented at Hibulb.

The Center also does an excellent job of acquainting visitors with the people who lived in this part (hundreds of thousands of acres) of the Pacific NW for over 10,000 years before Europeans ever visited or citizens of the nascent United States attempted to stake their own claim on the land. Who wouldn’t defend such a beautiful and abundant home, and the communities in which they lived, from invaders who threatened to take the natural resources on which their lives depended?

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In the history of the Tulalip Tribes, told by the Tribes, it is clear what it means to have a warrior spirit. As one quote in the display area about preservation of the Lushootsheed language said, “We have always been here, we are still here, we will always be here.” The story of resistance to three kinds of violence (physical, economic, and cultural) is not unique to the Tulalip, but the particular ways in which they resisted are instructive.

How do you hold fast to your identity and beliefs in the face of a decimated population, crushing poverty, and attempts to force assimilation of your children into a culture hostile to your values and very existence? The board (photo on left) describing the link between the warrior spirit and military service states that, “Warriors were expected to live an honest, healthy and balanced life. In time of war they risked everything and many gave their lives to fulfill their role to protect the people.”

For tribal members, who are citizens both of a sovereign nation within US borders as well as of the US, military service is one recognized way to be a warrior. In addition, however, there is a lifetime’s work in the pursuit of peace. While the Dakota Access Pipeline resistance has shone a light on the issue of ongoing encroachment of treaty rights, it is by no means the only example of contemporary struggles for natural and cultural preservation.

The work that tribal governments, communities, and individuals do to safeguard public lands and natural resources, while at the same time pursuing sustainable economic development and cultural preservation, benefits all Americans. Like the tribal members who serve in uniform through the Armed Forces, they are warriors. And we owe them our thanks as well – for all of America is Indian Country.*

*Under federal law, Indian Country is defined as “reservations, trust lands and dependent communities, where tribal sovereignty applies and state powers are limited.” While the definition is useful for clarifying where various contemporary governments have legal jurisdiction, it does not accurately reflect the history of a continent fully populated by the members of First Nations prior to 1492.

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