“You gotta start somewhere, but that isn’t where we finish” a speaker quoted Billy Frank Jr. at the 30th anniversary of the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference last week. For the first time since the conference's inception, they had a tribal co-chair lead the conference planning team. Patti Gobin, an elder from the Tulalip Tribes, not only brought the tribal voice to the conference, but the messages of healing, hope, truth and reconciliation, which reverberated throughout the topical sessions, the individual presentations and the keynote addresses by former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Gov. Jay Inslee.
I was particularly inspired at the evening Coast Salish dinner, where Patti, Cecilia and Glen Gobin blessed our meal with a northern Lushootseed prayer — and halibut blessed our stomachs. We were entertained by an awe-inspiring Tlingit-Haida intergenerational dance group. The troupe leader spoke of the bands in Southeast Alaska and how they were primarily wiped out by smallpox, with only a few dozen surviving.
But today there is hope. Through intergenerational mentoring, kids and elders are learning their ceremonial songs and dances and are sharing these gifts through European tours and, lucky for us, at the Salish Sea conference.
The dances honored their communities and neighboring bands: the wolf band, the salmon band, the eagle band, the raven band and the orca band who all joined us for dinner. We were witnesses to all these dances and songs that filled our hearts and souls, reminding us that people and nature are interconnected — and that when one suffers, we all suffer.
“We know our songs, we know our dances, we know our language and now it is time to heal," said Patti Gobin as we brought the three-hour dinner to a close. Yes, healing, we are all here to do that — healing ourselves and healing the Salish Sea. And thanks to the memory of Billy Frank Jr., our work here isn’t finished. But at least we are all in it together, healing and learning from each other, one step at a time.