Category Archives: Native American Interviews

Bill Sterud and The Puyallup Land Claims Settlement

Interview and Project By Miguel Douglas; blog post written by Erika Wigren

“It’s been a long journey. We are kind of like catching our breath and moving forward.” — Bill Sterud, Chairman of the Puyallup Tribal Council.

Bill Sterud, Chairman of Puyallup Tribal Council

Bill Sterud has served on the Puyallup Tribal council for over forty years. During those years, Sterud aided in the 1976 takeover of the Cascadia Juvenile Reception and Diagnostic Center, formerly Tacoma’s Cushman Hospital and most notably, represented the Tribe in negotiations that led to the Puyallup Land Claims Settlement.

The Puyallup Land Claims Settlement of 1990 established much of what comprises the land that the Puyallup Tribe owns today.

Sterud and other tribal members fought for retaining the legal boundaries of their Tribal reservation and surrounding land, water, and various other resource rights. The negotiations however, received mixed reviews from tribal members.

“Some thought that the negotiations shouldn’t take place, that we just go get what we own, and start removing people from our properties that we had won along the riverbed. So the word ‘sellout’ was thrown at the council for negotiating,” Sterud said.   

After years of negotiation, a settlement package of approximately $162 million in land, fisheries, economic and social development, and the construction of the Blair Navigation Project was introduced. At the time, it was the second-largest land claims settlement in U.S. history.

“I’m actually feeling pretty good about the direction, my fingers are crossed, I don’t take anything for granted because I’ve seen it go. They’ve stolen everything from us before. That’s a whole other story on that…So to this day, it’s been a long journey. We are kind of like catching our breath and moving forward.”

 

Still Fighting After All These Years: A Puyallup Tribal Member’s Perspective

By Rachael Williamson

“I found it exciting…Going to the protests, going to the fish-ins. It was being in a moment that nobody else will ever be in. This movement will never happen again, and I was involved in it. It was very educational” — Nancy Shippentower-Games.

Nancy Shippentower-Games is a member of the Puyallup Tribe in Washington State. Nancy grew up on the banks of the Nisqually River and Puyallup Rivers and currently resides in Yelm, Washington. Nancy’s family were very active during the fishing wars that took place on both the Nisqually and Puyallup Rivers. Her mother Janet McCloud and her uncle, Billy Frank Jr., are widely recognized activists that fought hard for Northwest Indigenous fishing rights during the battle over salmon in the mid-20th century.

Nancy Shippentower-Games

Nancy remembers vividly the violence, racism and injustices that she and her people suffered as they fought against the states of Washington and Oregon for what was rightfully theirs.

By revisiting the circumstances and propositions set forth in the Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854, a better understanding of what the Puyallup and Nisqually tribes have been fighting for comes into focus. While the Boldt Decision of 1974 was a turning point for Northwest Tribes, concerns such as climate change, overpopulation, and proposals such as the LNG plant in Tacoma continue to put the salmon runs and Indigenous culture at risk.

After all these years, Nancy continues to fight the battle for her people. Recently, she traveled to Washington D.C. to accept on behalf of her uncle Billy Frank Jr. the Medal of Freedom, presented by President Obama. Nancy also traveled to Standing Rock, where she represented the Puyallup tribe in the peaceful protests for clean water.

 

 

A Right to Live: Ramona Bennett, Puyallup Tribal Indian Activist

Interview and Project By Cecelia La-Pointe Gorman; blog post written by Erika Wigren

 “At one point I was looking at thirty-five years in prison for just standing up and saying the Indians have a right to life…And Indians have a right to live, and we have a right to a reasonable quality of life, and we have a right to a sense of permanence.”  Ramona Bennett.

Ramona Bennett

As a longtime leader for the Puyallup Tribe, Ramona Bennett has always been a force to be reckoned with. From aiding in local fish-ins to the takeover of Tacoma’s Cushman Hospital, Bennett has spent over forty years working on behalf of the Puyallup Tribe and the Pacific Northwest Native American Community.

Bennett began her work in the 1950s in Seattle’s American Indian Women’s Service League. In 1964, she co-founded the Survival of American Indians Association, an organization that helped bring local fish-ins to national prominence.

She also co-founded the Local Indian Child Welfare Act Committee which helped in securing a national Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978. Bennett also opened doors for women activists by actively fighting attempts during the 1970s to exclude her from National Tribal Chairmen’s Conferences.

“At one point I was looking at thirty-five years in prison for just standing up and saying the Indians have a right to life,” Bennett said, “And Indians have a right to live, and we have a right to a reasonable quality of life, and we have a right to a sense of permanence.”

Perhaps the most well-known social justice work of Bennett’s was her role in the takeover of both the Bureau of Indian Affairs Building in Washington, DC in 1972 and the 1976 takeover of Tacoma’s Cushman Hospital.

In a 1976 interview with Clara Faser of the Freedom Socialist newspaper in Seattle, Bennett stated “we’ll not be bought off or bribed to become goodie-goodies…And we’ll keep this land and this building too. It’s all ours, and you fight for what’s yours.”

Bennett and other tribe members took control of Cushman Indian Hospital, also known as the Cascadia Juvenile Reception and Diagnostic Center, which once belonged to the Puyallup Tribe.

Hundreds of Native Americans and their supporters held the hospital for seven days until negotiations finally began with the State, ultimately leading to a victory for the Puyallup Tribe. After a week an official agreement between the tribe, the State and the federal government was made, guaranteeing the return of Cascadia to the trusteeship of the United States for use by the Puyallup Tribe as a medical and social welfare center for its people.

In the 1980s, Bennett served as an administrator for the Wa-He-Lut Indian School in Olympia before going on to co-found Rainbow Youth and Family Services, a Tacoma-based non-profit that she still directs today.

Finding the Way Back – Philip H. Red Eagle

Oral history and blog post by Jordan Woolston

“I think because I became an artist and a writer and kind of leader, that was in me, it’s always been there…You don’t become a poet because somebody says, ‘Oh you ought to be a poet.’ You become a poet because it’s there.” Philip H. Red Eagle

Philip H. Red Eagle was born in 1945 in Tacoma, Washington. His mother, Marian Steilacoom, of Salish decent, was born near Port Angeles, Washington. Philip’s father, Philip Red Eagle, a member of the Dakota Tribe, was born near the Missouri River on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana. Phillip spent the first fourteen years of his life in Tacoma, attending Stanley and McCarver schools before moving to Sitka, Alaska with his family in 1959.

Philip Red Eagle

Philip joined the Navy shortly after graduating from high school, serving in Vietnam for five years from 1969-1973. After Vietnam, Philip returned to Washington and began undergraduate studies at the University of Washington where he earned two bachelor’s degrees.

The return to civilian life after the war affected Philip and he struggled with PTSD and related issues like depression and insomnia. At the time of Philip’s discharge PTSD did not even have a name but emerging studies would prove Philip was not alone. The late and delayed effects of combat exposure in the form of PTSD were a significant source of suffering and disability among veterans in the United States. An estimated 700, 000 Vietnam veterans—almost a quarter of all soldiers sent to Vietnam from 1964 to 1973—required some form of psychological help.

Philip found that art, writing, and taking part in the revival of his culture helped him confront his PTSD. Nearly from the beginning, Philip played an important role in the annual Tribal Canoe Journeys, atradition started in 1989 by Emmett Oliver of the Quinault Nation. A member of the committee planning the State of Washington’s centennial celebration, Oliver organized the Paddle to Seattle to ensure the state’s First Peoples were represented. Philip was asked to take part in the Paddle to Seattle but was unable to attend. Within the next few years, Philip found himself intimately involved in a cultural renaissance that involved multiple generations of a still-growing number of indigenous nations.

As an artist, Philip brings an influential presence to the Canoe Journeys. With help, he has made over 6,500 copper rings that have been used in The Copper Ring Ceremony since 1995. The ceremony calls for no alcohol, no drugs, no violence, and total commitment to the 10 Rules of the Canoe while on journey.  Philip is also the Director of the Carver’s Camp which was formed in 2004 to teach carving to the people of the Canoe Nations. Started with only three carvers, the camp is currently manned by twelve persons, native and non-native, male and female. The Camp is directly descended from The Cedar Tree Institute, which was dedicated to the resurgence, maintenance and support, of Northwest Native culture.  Philip’s presence extends far beyond those involved with the Canoe Journey’s. A publisher and a writer, Philip’s contributions to the Puget Sound’s art community are vast. Philip organized The Raven Chronicles, a Seattle-based nonprofit literary arts magazine, in the early 90s. The organization’s mission is to publish and promote artistic work that embodies the cultural diversity and multitude of viewpoints of writers and artists living in the Pacific Northwest and other regions. Philip’s writings have since been published by various journals, magazines, and newspapers and his book, Red Earth: A Vietnam Warriors Journey, is in its second printing Tom Heidlebaugh, who Philip met in 1992 and was a pivotal actor in the Canoe Journeys program, penned a poetic forward to Philip’s book writing;

When you put this book down, you are able to stand up, to stand for your people, to stand up for that high, sharp-drawn chant coming off the red dawn of the endless plains, coming off the red leaves of late summer, coming off the red earth from which our songs and our healing have always come and to which we are taken back when we have been accepted, by ourselves and our people, back to the circle.

Against the struggles of PTSD, Philip made his life work about bringing people back to the circle. Through his poetry, writings, art, community engagement, and myriad other ways, Philip promotes the revival of and respect of Indigenous cultures. In guiding others, Philip found his own way back.