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Travels with Kenny

By Jay Taber
In July 1974, the year U. S. District Court Judge George Boldt ruled on the
American Indian treaty fishing rights case United States v. Washington
commonly known as the Boldt Decision I was a cannery tender captain,
buying salmon for Port Chatham Packing Company of Seattle, owned at the
time by a pair of Norwegian brothers named Norman and Erling Nielsen. Port
Chatham smoked salmon was known worldwide for its exceptional quality,
and counted gourmet chef Julia Child among its steady customers.
The salmon I procured for Port Chatham came largely from Lummi (a.k.a.
Lhaq temish) and Samish Indians, who caught the Chinook salmon so prized
by connoisseurs of the Nielsens Norwegian-style BALLARD LOX. Sometimes,
when seas were rough off Cherry Point where they fished, I took my vessel
into the Sandy Point Marina and tied up to a friends fathers private dock.
The Marina is part of the Lummi Indian Reservation, so this was handy for all
The problem, as I soon discovered, was that I was obligated to buy a license
and pay a tax to the Lummi Tribe, which would make me less competitive in
the prices I could offer to the fishermen. Operating in violation of this
regulation is how I came to meet Ken Cooper, at the time a Lummi Nation
fisheries patrol officer. Built like a Grizzly Bear, Ken did not need to persuade
me that I would be wise to come along peacefully, to be heard in Lummi
Tribal Court.
In July 1993, when I was managing litigation for the Watershed Defense Fund,
our attorney and I appeared before the Washington State Shorelines
Hearings Board in Olympia, and called on Lummi Nation water resources staff
person Harriet Beale to testify about her knowledge of water quality issues.
Later that summer, I went on vacation to the coastal village of La Push,
located on the Quileute Indian Reservation. Walking around the village, I saw
a beautiful carved canoe, and asked the owner if I could take a photo.
As he proudly posed next to it for a photo-op, I mentioned I knew a Lummi
Indian by the name of Ken Cooper, who was from just down the coast at the
Hoh Indian Reservation. Stunned by my comment, he said that Ken did not
grow up at Hoh River, but grew up right next door, pointing at the small
house just yards away. Learning of this, I sent the photo to the Lummi water
resources office, where Ms. Beale worked alongside Ken Cooper, whom I
received a call from a few days later.

When I answered the phone, Ken, who likely did not remember our encounter
twenty years earlier, thanked me for the photo of his childhood friend -whom he had not seen in many years -- and proceeded to tell me stories
about living at La Push. Before he hung up, Ken said that the experience of
receiving this photo out-of-the-blue was so emotional, that he had held his
ceremonial drum while we talked.
In September 1995, U.S. Senator Slade Gorton the former Washington
Attorney General who lost the Boldt Decision case went on a rampage of
vengeance against Lummi Nation, threatening to drastically cut the federal
funding they were entitled to by the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliot, in retaliation
for Lummi Nation subjecting white Fee Land Owners on the reservation to
water quality rules enacted by the Lummi Indian Governing Council. As
special advisor to Washington Environmental Council president Sherilyn
Wells, I observed the Lummi round dance in front of the Whatcom County
Courthouse where Mrs. Wells spoke (alongside Lummi spiritual leader Ken
Cooper), in denouncing Senator Gorton.
Attending the round dance -- accompanied by Lummi Tribal drummers was
Lummi Nation staff attorney Shirley Leckman, and my Public Good Project
associate, Paul de Armond. As I walked up the block to tell Paul and Shirley
that I had just returned from the printer with copies of Pauls report on antiIndian developments in the region, I could hear Ken Coopers booming voice
singing a holy song in the Lhaq temish language.
On May 19, 2001 after flying in from San Francisco, to where I had moved
in 1998 -- I attended the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force awards banquet,
at which Kurt Russo of the Lummi Nation Sovereignty and Treaty Protection
Office presented an award to Paul for putting his life on the line
contributing to the apprehension of people engaged in intimidation of
environmental advocates, Indian treaty proponents, and human rights
activists. Joining Paul in receiving awards were my friend Linda Lyman, and
posthumously, Ken Cooper.
In June 2005, I published a collection of my short stories titled Life as
Festival, in which I included the stories Ken Cooper had told me in 1993, that
I named Eye-to-Eye. In my story, I used the name Benny instead of Kenny.
In October 2011, early one Sunday morning, I walked for tea and scones at
the Fort Mason caf and bookstore, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and
San Francisco Bay. Browsing through the used books section, I spotted an
intriguing titleThe Heart of the Sky: Travels Among the Maya, by Peter
Canby. Thinking that my friend Nina -- who had adopted a Guatemalan Maya
daughter while living and teaching in Oaxaca -- might enjoy it, I purchased it

and returned home. Enjoying the book, I nearly read it straight through, until
I came to page 311, where to my utter surprise, I read the following passage:
Later, back in San Cristobal, I spoke with a member of the delegation of
Northwest Indians that had been visiting Lacanja. The man, a six-foot-fiveinch, 250-pound Lummi Indian from Washington State named Cha-dasskidum, or Ken Cooper in English, was concerned that the Lacandons were
losing their forest and that this would affect their spiritual well-being.
When theyre young, he said, all indigenous people go into the forest and
stay there until the forest speaks to them, until they become part of it. When
that happens, the forest shows them how to get out. Its like you guys. You
didnt get out of the forest because you were tough or smart. You got out
because the forest was ready to let you go.
On April 17, 2013 -- having received notice of an April 6 anti-Indian
conference, held near the Lummi Indian Reservation the Cascadia Weekly
published my letter to the editor titled Givers and Takers on page 4 of the
Earth Day issue. According to Paul de Armonds sister Claire, it was the last
thing Paul read before passing away on April 20, and the last time he smiled.
In the April 23 issue, Cascadia Weeklys editor wrote a eulogy to Paul titled A
Giant Passes Through.
On May 3, 2013, I received an email from a woman named Sandra Robson,
who was involved in the fight against the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal
(GPT) at Cherry Point, a coal-export development opposed by Lummi Nation.
Sandra was working closely with Sierra Club, as well as ReSources, a nonprofit that successfully sued SSA Marine/Pacific International Terminals
(parent of GPT) for violating the Clean Water Act, by illegally bulldozing an
ancient Lummi burial ground and village site at Cherry Point.
On March 11, 2014, I got an email from a lady named Deborah Cruz, a
Unitarian Universalist involved with Lummi Nation, who had read my May 5,
2013 article titled White Power on the Salish Sea: The Wall Street/Tea Party
Convergence, published at IC Magazine. My article had been quoted in a
January 2014 cover story by Sandra Robson at Whatcom Watch titled What
Would Corporations Do? Native American Rights and the Gateway Pacific
Terminal, with a footnote link that was forwarded to Ms. Cruz by Crina Hoyer
at ReSources.
On March 12, 2016, Northwest Citizen presented Sandra Robson the Paul
deArmond Citizen Journalism award. On April 1, 2016, Wrong Kind of Green
published my special report titled Netwar at Cherry Point: White Power on the
Salish Sea, a story about the pursuit of truth, democratic renewal, and the
holy spirit.

In the concluding paragraph of my 2005 story Eye-to-Eye, I wrote the

following about Ken Cooper:
A few years back, when Benny returned to the other world to share stories
with his ancestors, I remembered these stories he told me over the phone
one morning, while holding his drum and the photo Id sent him of the new
canoe carved by his childhood friend at La Push. He was thinking of maybe
going back for a visit during the great gathering of tribal ocean paddlers
from Canada and Washington that Id told him Id seen advertised while
camping out there on vacation.
I dont know if he made it back, but I like to think that hes happy more
people are starting to appreciate the values of cooperation, reciprocity, and
sharing he grew up with. It would make him feel good.
Jay Thomas Taber is an associate scholar of the Center for World Indigenous Studies, and a
contributing editor of Fourth World Journal. Since 1994, he has served as communications
director at Public Good Project, a volunteer network of researchers, analysts and journalists
engaged in defending democracy. As a consultant, he has assisted indigenous peoples in the
European Court of Human Rights and at the United Nations.