Arlecho Creek is special to the Lummi tribe

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AUTHOR: Mina Vedder

The old-growth forest in Arlecho Creek is special to the Lummi tribe. It is a place of spiritual worship and a place to interact with Mother Nature.

The clear morning sun filters through the branches of the forest and droplets of dew rest on the surrounding fauna. Birds chirp in unison — a wake-up call for the other wildlife in the forest. This area of Arlecho Creek, located near Mount Baker, is home to cedar, fir and hemlock trees that are centuries old and home to the endangered murrelet bird.

Arlecho Creek has seen tough times. Eight years ago, the Arlecho basin was overrun with loggers who clear-cut the hills surrounding Arlecho. It was also eight years ago that the Lummi Indian tribe blocked the access road to keep logging trucks from reaching the rest of the forest. The tribe handed loggers informational pamphlets about the biodiversity and cultural significance of the area to the Lummi tribe, and then let the loggers proceed. The information blockade caught the attention of regional and national news agencies, including CNN.

The old-growth forest in Arlecho Creek is special to the Lummi tribe. It is a place of spiritual worship and a place to interact with Mother Nature.

“We like to go to an area that is isolated, pure, where it’s never been touched, where there is no development going on so we can commune with Mother Nature,” said Xwomiksten, traditional healer and natural-resource biologist of the Lummi tribe, who also goes by Tom Edwards. “Mother Nature has a lot to offer us and a lot to teach us. She has many stories to tell from the leaves, the rocks, the trees, the plants, the wetlands, the water …”

Arlecho Creek is also a place where the Lummi relieve stress and sorrow and learn songs and stories from their ancestors. Some families will stay in the forest for four to six days interacting with nature and teaching its young ones about Lummi heritage. The Lummi also use the old-growth area for vision quests, which is a way the tribe members talk to The Great Spirit and pray.

“We always pray for the elders first because they are the treasure holders of all the knowledge. They experienced what has happened in the past,” Xwomiksten said. “I pray for the continued health of our elders so that they can continue to help us understand the old ways, so we can teach those teachings to the younger generation.”

That is why the old-growth areas in Arlecho Creek need to remain, so the tribe can stay connected to its culture, Xwomiksten said. If the rest of Arlecho is logged, the Lummi tradition also disappears.

Arlecho Creek is home to the endangered murrelet sea bird or squok-quok. The murrelet, a symbol of fortune, means the “totem of the pot-latch” or the gathering of people. The community comes together during the winter and summer seasons and brings homemade dishes to share. The tribe eats together, exchanges stories, and shares its knowledge and wisdom with each other. In the old days, many Lummi didn’t make it past the second grade, said Xwomiksten, so the pot-latch was a place where people could come together, to learn from each other and learn about Mother Nature.

The murrelet has brought many people outside of the tribe together: The House of Tibet, the Paul Allen Foundation, Microsoft and its employees, Columbia University, The Nature Conservancy, Crown Pacific timber company and many other organizations. The groups recognize the importance of preserving the culture of the Lummi tribe as well as the endangered species in Arlecho including eagles, elk, salmon, bears and assorted plant life.

In an effort to save what is left of Arlecho, these and other organizations across the country donated more than $5.25 million; $7.1 million is needed by Dec. 2002 to purchase the 2,000-acre area from Crown Pacific lumber company.

“Anything we don’t make a conscious effort to save over the next 40 years will be extinct,” said Kurt Russo, director of the Arlecho Creek Forest Conservation Partnership. “That includes biological species as well as languages and cultural ways of living. It’s all going to disappear. This particular area (Arlecho Creek) is a place of cultural importance to aboriginal people of this region. It is enormously important for biodiversity as it is a micro-problem of a global issue.”

The goal of the Lummi tribe and the Lummi Natural Re-source Department is to preserve, protect and enhance the remaining resources in Arlecho for future generations.

“We look at everything as a whole: the land, the water, the earth, the game, the air,” Xwomiksten said. “If you disrupt the system it causes a ripple effect making the whole system unbalanced.”

The Lummi tribe is trying to stop all logging in the area in order to keep the system balanced.

The Lummi tribe would like the department landowners and the Department of Natural Resources to respect its recommendations concerning Arlecho. The tribe wants adequate protection on treaty and inherent rights given to them by its ancestors.

According to Xwomiksten, the state looks at fish, water and roads, but is leaving out several important factors: culture, archeological, historical and wildlife.

Why should the community care about Arlecho Creek when only a small percentage of the population has ever heard of it?

“It isn’t the kind of caring that puts food on your table; it isn’t the kind of caring that puts shoes on your children’s feet,” explained Russo, who has worked with the Lummi tribe for 22 years. “To tribal members, the forest has put a song to their hearts to know that it is there.”

After Arlecho Creek is purchased, the Lummi tribe, Northwest Indian College, Western Washington University and other colleges in the state will use the area to give students hands-on experience learning how the ecosystem functions and how to restore what has been damaged during past logging. The tribe also plans to use the clear-cut areas to build tribal schools.

“We want to open people’s eyes so they can see this project become a success, and maybe other people will jump on board and look at other areas,” Xwomiksten said. “If we don’t do anything now in protecting our culture and Mother Nature, we’re going to lose all the resources.”

Xwomiksten hopes that as soon as the land is purchased, people in the community will come and celebrate together at Arlecho Creek, and work together to preserve and restore this land so important to the Lummi tribe, the endangered species and the community.

By preserving and restoring Arlecho Creek, the Lummi tribe can continue the traditions of its culture embedded in its roots since the beginning of time. The conservation efforts in Arlecho are crucial to the survival of the murrelet bird, salmon, elk, deer and a variety of wildlife that make their home in this area. When local and national communities work together to save Arlecho Creek, it enriches the lives of the Lummi tribe and the communities.

Arlecho Creek Conservation Partnership (360) 733-5648
Arlecho Web site: www.nwic.edu/arlecho

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