November 16, 2022
Listen, and support Indigenous voices
Terri Thayer

The stories of Raven and Salmon, Bear and Steelhead, and Thunderbird, portrayed in a story pole dedicated earlier this fall at the Port of Bellingham, teach lessons of respect for all creatures and of acting with care and intention. Carved by Lummi Nation House of Tears Carvers head carver Se Sealth, Jewell Praying Wolf James, the installation celebrates this region’s cultural heritage. (Amy Nelson photo © 2022)

November 16, 2022
Listen, and support Indigenous voices
Terri Thayer

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The essays, analyses and opinions presented as Community Voices express the perspectives of their authors on topics of interest and importance to the community, and are not intended to reflect perspectives on behalf of the Salish Current.

The Double Thunderbird story pole at busy Squalicum Harbor celebrates Lummi culture. (Amy Nelson photo © 2022)

Native American Heritage Month always brings with it a flood of emotions for me. It is a month of awareness for Indigenous communities. The celebration of resilience and resistance. An honoring of culture and tradition. It often involves reflection and remembrance. And Native American Heritage Month is my every day. 

There is a lot happening for Indigenous people across the globe. There is a constant battle for the right to exist and preserve what remains. This fight does not just exist in some faraway place, but it exists here in Whatcom County. The fight exists in Bellingham. 

I have good conversations with a lot of people with good intentions. I have shared my identity as an Indigenous woman and what it means to me. I have shared my story, my experiences. I’ve taken risks, to be vulnerable and share my hopes and needs. There is a desire to learn. A desire to understand.

I’ve been in a lot of conversations with people with strong supporting nods of agreement as I teach about invisibility, sovereignty and a need for acknowledgment. I’ve pleaded with non-native colleagues, friends, and community members to make space for Indigenous voices. In some cases, I have been received with open arms and space to be Indigenous without explanation. These opportunities have created powerful relationships. 

A story pole carved by Lummi Nation’s Kwul Kwullt, Joseph Hillaire, has been moved several times in its 70-year history to various sites around the mouth of Whatcom Creek. It is currently absent from its latest home outside the Whatcom County Courthouse while it undergoes renovation. (Salish Current photo)

But I worry that we can get caught up in the performative aspect of equity work. Going through the motions, repeating the words, and getting stuck in defining terms. Many have created land acknowledgments and professional development experiences, and participate in book clubs. And yet, when an uncomfortable situation arises that requires a response, there is often silence. Our fear of doing it wrong or concerned about what others will think of us, keeps us from stepping in and being who we profess to be. 

Right now, my curiosity goes to digging into allyship. What does it mean to be an Indigenous ally? 

I’d like us to consider these questions: How does my knowledge, my equity work, compel me into action to create change and/or push back on established systems? Specifically, how do I do this for Indigenous people? Why is it important to know that the lands of Whatcom County were once occupied by Coast Salish people? Do I know what’s important for Indigenous peoples right now? 

I’d like to share a few issues that are of concern and resources to learn more.

My hope is that non-Indigenous people will become aware of the challenges that Indigenous people are currently facing and find ways to amplify Indigenous voices. My hope is this knowledge will push people to action. Be aware. Do something. Be willing to be uncomfortable. Support Indigenous voices. 

Contributed by Terri Thayer

Editor’s Note: In recognition of Native American History Month, the Bellingham City Club has compiled a list of resources to further the study and appreciation of American Indian history and culture.

We welcome letters to the editor responding to or amplifying subjects addressed in Community Voices. If you wish to contribute to Community Voices, please send an email with a subject proposal to Managing Editor Mike Sato (msato@rockisland.com) and he will respond with guidelines.

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photo: Amy Nelson © 2022
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