BY MICHEAL RIOS
The usually vacant lot across from Tulalip Resort Casino was anything but as hundreds of community members, tribal employees, and partners in interest gathered to celebrate the completion of the Tulalip Water Pipeline Project, affectionately called ‘Big Water’.
The historical moment was treated as such with a traditional welcoming ceremony provided by the Tulalip Salmon Ceremony singers and drummers led by board of director Glen Gobin. There was an open invite for all tribal members to join in with their drums and singing voices to perform a song passed down by Harriet Sheldon Dover. Following the songs, Lushootseed language teacher Natosha Gobin offered a prayer in her traditional language and then English to bless the special occasion.
Our ancestors knew that our survival as a people depended on the natural resources of our land and waters
In negotiating the Point Elliot Treaty, they ensured access to salmon were among the rights we reserved. We call ourselves the People of the Salmon. By preserving this precious resource we are defending our lifeways, our culture, and our identity.
Photo credits: all photos are courtesy of Micheal Rios
“The completion of this water pipeline is an historic event. We have secured water for our people and our future generations for the next hundred years. It took years of planning and years more to build the pipeline, which now carries water from Spada Lake to Tulalip. It will enhance our salmon recovery efforts, habitat restoration, and will provide a source of fresh water for our people now and into the future.”
Big Water has been heralded as the righting of a wrong committed against the Tribes long ago by the City of Everett, specifically when Everett built a diversion dam and tunnel to move water from the Sultan River to Lake Chaplain in 1916. The way the diversion was managed, there were times of the year that the Upper Sultan River was completely dry. Although the Lower Sultan River received enough water from other tributaries to allow salmon to spawn, miles of Upper Sultan River were no longer accessible to spawning fish resulting in massive population losses.
After years of court battles and lawsuits regarding the diversion dam and loss of waterways and salmon spawning habitat, the Tulalip Tribes and City of Everett began mending the long history of opposition and obstruction in 2003. The two governments have since moved towards a new era of consultation and compromise.
“What this was about more than anything was trust [between the City of Everett and Tulalip Tribes],” said former Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson while recalling his father teaching him about the many injustices that happened to Native American people. I never thought in my lifetime that I would have the opportunity to right a wrong, and this agreement really helped right a wrong.”
In 2016, the Snohomish County PUD created a fish passage around the old City of Everett diversion dam that made possible for 5-miles of spawning habitat to once again be available to salmon. Already fisheries staff have seen Coho and Steelhead in the area and are anticipating Chinook will return in the upcoming season. On Reservation, the Tulalip pipeline will supply approximately thirty-million gallons of water per day for the next one-hundred years.
Today’s celebration means potable water will be flowing to our homes to serve the needs of our families for the next 100 years and our streams will be augmented for the benefit of our salmon and their natural habitat stated Deborah Parker, Tulalip tribal member and former Joint Water Pipeline Lead.
Our partnership reflects what is possible when two governments come together to work towards a solution.
Highlighting the Big Water celebration was the ceremonial opening of the taps. Tribal leadership joined by Everett officials each turned a golden spigot to free a new source of life-giving water.
Concluding the celebration was a salmon bake feast cooked by Cy Fryberg and his family. Many attendees could be seen filling their gifted water bottles with water from the honorary golden pipes.
While Big Water is the culmination of many mission statements and priorities of the Tulalip Tribes, there was also a heartfelt connection to the ‘water is life’ slogan that has become universal in Native communities across the country. As is true for humans anywhere, water is life, and that is why we are ever-vigilant in protecting it for our future generations.
This historic event took place in Spring of 2017.