DISCUSSION – Elaine Willman, left, extended an invitation to talk to Paul Wagner, one of the people who turned out to protest her program Saturday. Despite the placard-holding demonstrators standing behind them and protester cameras recording the event, the discussion began amicably. The friendly tone quickly dissolved into chaos. – Photo by Nicole Jennings
DEMONSTRATORS – Several groups of people, including tribal members, turned out to protest at the workshop featuring Elaine Willman sponsored by the Skagit County Citizens Alliance for Property Rights in Sedro-Woolley on Saturday. – Photo by Judy Booth
Elaine Willman draws fire from activists
By Judy Booth An appearance by author Elaine Willman, who is reviled on the left and by some tribal activists and is revered by some taxpayers in Skagit County, drew lots of attention on Saturday. She was in Sedro-Woolley to conduct a four-hour workshop sponsored by the Skagit County Citizens Alliance for Property Rights. Here are what the some of the demonstrators who gathered on the sidewalk outside the Tequila Azteca Restaurant had to say about their reasons for picketing the event. Michelle Vendiola, who is with Red Line Salish Sea, formerly Bellingham #NoDAPL Coalition, was one of the organizers of the rally. Vendiola’s message: “Elaine Willman is going across the nation to try to work with people who live on Indian land – to try to (end) tribal treaties to open up (reservations) for resources so that they don’t have to go by tribal laws and work with other interests. *This event is sponsored by Republicans. It is a fundraiser for the Republican Party. Why so much interest in promoting it? Why promote a woman like this who wants to do away with federal treaty rights? If the Republican Party, who are supposed to be supporting, legally, the rights of everyone, go against the constitution? Are there interests beyond that, such as resources – like Cherry Point? “She is good at misinformation and spreading fear to the general public – like their jobs will be taken. We are here to help them understand Elaine Willman has a different agenda, hopefully not the Republican Party but they seem to be working together.” Paul Che oke’ ten Wagner of Redmond, who said he a member of the Saanich Nation of British Columbia, led prayer to the Creator, hands up in sunshine – “In defense of land, air and sea. They say they want to resolve but their real intention is to take away tribal rights.” Wagner said he prayed to make Willman’s “heart right.” Another of the demonstrators, Rosalina Guillen of Community to Community Development in Bellingham, said she supported the protesters. The Swinomish, she said, “gave us respect and dignity. This is the reason we organized – to support farm workers against racism and oppression and exploitation and to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of color.” Zoltan Grossman, Professor of Geography and Native American Studies at Evergreen State College and the author of “Unlikely Alliances: Native Nations and White Communities Join to Defend Rural Lands,” was among a group of protesters who walked into the workshop, signed in and took seats. Grossman, Professor of Geography and Native American Studies at Evergreen State College, quoted Article 6, of the U.S. Constitution, “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land...” “She (Willman) is trying to relive her glory years – a measure of her weakness not her strength. The last guys of the anti-treaty movement.” Grossman said. *Editor's Note: Gary Hagland, president of the Skagit County Citizens Alliance for Property Rights said, “Republicans had nothing to do with this event.” But weeks ago Willman was a guest speaker at a different event, the Skagit Republicans’ Lincoln-Regan Day Dinner held May 6.
Controversial author and orator Elaine Willman held a workshop at Tequila Azteca Restaurant in Sedro-Woolley on Saturday, drawing about 80 people, mostly senior citizens, and a throng of protesters Willman, whose mother was an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, led a four-hour discussion on how she feels the political power and wealth of Native American tribes has grown to a point that is infringing on the rights of non-tribal members. The workshop was sponsored by the Skagit County Citizens Alliance for Property Rights. Besides the people who came to hear her, several of whom were from La Conner, the workshop drew about 25 protesters, including members of tribes around the state and their supporters. “I wonder how people could come together in such a hateful way,” protest organizer Michelle Vendiola said of the attendees. “People have always been after our resources, our land, and I don’t think this is any different.” Vendiola of the Walker River Paiute Tribe, is a member of Red Line Salish Sea, formerly the Bellingham No DAPL Coalition. According to Willman, dividing Americans into tribal and non-tribal people has served only to tear citizens apart from one another. “I don’t understand why we can’t just come together. Why we can’t just be Americans. Why we can’t just live and let live,” Willman stated. She added, “We’re not white people. We’re Americans. We’re not black people. We’re Americans.” Willman pointed to the town of Toppenish, Washington – which sits within the Yakima Reservation – as a town that had once embraced the “live and let live” spirit. The town had played host to a very patriotic Fourth of July celebration and featured historic murals honoring U.S. history and drawing history enthusiasts from around the region. However, after a casino opened, Willman said that the town’s tourism economy completely shut down, with most family-owned restaurants in town being forced out of business. Willman is not against Native Americans, but she believes that tribal governments are getting too hungry for power, land, money and other resources. She brought up problems that affect Skagit County, such as the instream flow rule, which has left rural homeowners unable to drill household wells and left farmers without irrigation water last summer, as well as disputes over fishing rights, and the impacts of casinos on local businesses. And specific to La Conner is an issue with tribal lawyers helping craft a state response to the Great Wolf Lodge federal court ruling which led to big property tax increases for residents who were subject to a tax shift when Shelter Bay, built on leased Swinomish Reservation land, was removed from the county tax rolls. Willman also noted the lack of will on the part of politicians to create what taxpayers would consider a more even playing field, with tribes donating heavily to election campaigns. Last year, Willman noted, tribes contributed $800,000 to campaigns for Washington State legislators. It is illegal for any city or county government to contribute money to a candidate’s campaign. “Why is it that no American governments can participate financially in elections, but tribal governments can?” Willman asked. Most of the people in the room agreed with Willman and many spoke into the microphone to share their own thoughts. They expressed the wish for tribal governments not to have any special rights that are denied to non-tribal Americans. “The special treatment was well-deserved and necessary for a long period of time, when we were settling the country,” Willman said. About halfway through Willman’s talk – during a lunch break – about a dozen of the protesters entered the room to press their point of view. “America is a colonialist, imperialist government whose sole purpose is to continue to take … from other brown people around the world,” stated Paul Wagner of Redmond, a member of the Saanich Tribe of British Columbia. Wagner told the La Conner Weekly News that reservations “are little more than concentration camps” in the “world’s greatest Holocaust.” In “sheer volume” of murders, he said, the US Government has been worse than Hitler. “Their greatest goal is to destroy who we are,” he said. “We need to let them know we’re not afraid,” said Rosalinda Guillen, who was there to support the demonstrators. When asked if there is any part of the American Government for which she is grateful, she responded that she is thankful for the right of free speech, because it is something she can use on occasions such as Saturday’s protest. Liz Darrow of Bellingham is not a tribal member, but joined Saturday’s protest with a sign saying “Fascism not welcome here.” “I’m here in support of Native Americans whose rights have been eroded,” she said. “For anyone to say they should have any less is not okay.” Willman invited Wagner, who was wearing a Salish cedar hat and holding a drum, to sit with her at the front of the room and share a discussion. The debate began harmoniously. “Should we be afraid of each other?” Willman asked Wagner. “We should not fear other people, we should be willing to listen,” Wagner responded. He then brought up boarding schools from the early 20th century that he claims the federal government forced Native American children to attend. “If they truly believed we’re all equal, why would they kidnap our children?” he asked. “All of us revile our past … None of us are innocent,” Willman responded. “My question is, can we go forward together?” “We have no choice,” Wagner said. “If we do not work together, we will not see where this colonial world is headed. We’re all in one canoe.” Then he brought up the boarding schools and what he called the kidnap of Native children again. “The mindset I’m hearing Paul describing is completely about yesterday,” Willman observed. At that, Wagner started shouting, saying that he was very much focused on the present. This exchange prompted loud outbursts from both sides, with one person shouting, “Shut up!” and the peaceful discussion disintegrated. When Vendiola, one of the protest organizers, took the mic, and refused to return it to Willman, it became apparent that there would be no return to amicable debate. Willman asked the protesters to go back outside. Wagner said he wanted to sing a prayer song before leaving and prefaced it by telling the people in the room they were sitting on indigenous land and were not the rightful owners. This prompted outbursts from the audience, including “Bullshit!” and “I pay my rent fair and square!” Willman asked him to sing his song outside, but Wagner began to sing and play his drum anyway, with the group of protesters joining in. When police were brought in, most of the protesters cleared out, and Willman continued the workshop. “There seems to be such an abundance of people who resent America … who want to see the US gone,” Willman said. “We need to speak back. I’m one of the few who speaks back and look at the commotion outside!” Note: This story is has been corrected since it was originally posted to accurately state the tribal affiliation of Michelle Vendiola.
Posted: Saturday, May 27, 2017
Article comment by:
Dan McCaughan: I think your comment is problematic in a number of ways. You wrote, "The protester would not return the microphone to Elaine and proceeded to beat his drum very loudly while shouting incoherently." Below, is a definition of the word "incoherent": "adjective adjective: incoherent 1. (of spoken or written language) expressed in an incomprehensible or confusing way unclear. • (of spoken or written language) expressed in an incomprehensible or confusing way unclear. • (of an ideology, policy, or system) internally inconsistent illogical."
The protester, described in one of the articles above as "Paul Che oke’ ten Wagner, of Redmond, who said he a member of the Saanich Nation of British Columbia, was not shouting incoherently as he beat his drum. To describe his song as incoherent shouting is not only inaccurate, it is offensive of you to do so. His song/singing and drumming is part of his culture, and that culture is different than yours or mine. His song and drumming was not confusing, or unclear, or illogical, as is stated in the definition of the word, "incoherent." It was beautiful to hear.
You wrote: "We listened respectfully until the calm changed to rudeness." Mr. Wagner and Ms. Vendiola were speaking calmly and simply stating their perspective and then some workshop attendees began to shout out at them in disagreement with what they were saying. One workshop attendee shouted the word, "Bullshit." And, another workshop attendee shouted "shut up." So, actually, things were calm until attendees started shouting out those kinds of remarks, and that was what was rude.
I would also point out here that reporter Nicole Jennings wrote: "At that, Wagner started shouting, saying that he was very much focused on the present." Ms. Jennings' statement is not quite accurate because she neglected to point out that Ms. Willman had made a remark that Mr. Wagner felt needed a response, but she had the mic, so he had to speak loudly for people in the room to hear him since he no longer had the mic. So, to say Mr. Wagner started shouting could give the impression that he was yelling or angry when, in fact, he was simply speaking loud enough so that people in the room could hear his words without the aid of a mic.
You wrote: "The protesters became louder and louder and would not leave peacefully." To say that the protesters would not leave peacefully is an inaccurate statement and it could give readers the impression that the protesters were somehow violent, which, as you know, they were not. They were always peaceful. Now, they may have not left the first time Ms. Willman asked them to leave, and they stayed a bit longer, but it is important to clarify for anyone reading your comment that the protesters did, in fact, leave peacefully.
Lastly, you wrote: "Elaine tried to convey the facts and shed light on the corruption that is rampant between tribal governments and local, city, state, and federal governments." You make that general allegation against tribal governments, but you do not provide any substantiation for your accusation.
Posted: Friday, May 26, 2017
Article comment by:
I appreciate your coverage of this event. However, it markedly understates the degree to which Elaine Willman's views and goals are far beyond the pale of Federal Indian Law and policies and the long-standing recognition of tribal sovereignty and treaty rights. Ms. Willman's goals recall egregious periods of our history when tribal human rights were disregarded and the commitments to tribes rooted in the Constitution cast aside. In addition, the Skagit GOP clearly promoted this event on its official website and has its own unfortunate history of anti-Indianism. See this link for more on this history and the racism promoted by Elaine Willman. https://www.irehr.org/2017/05/25/confronting-anti-indianism-skagit-county/
Posted: Thursday, May 25, 2017
Article comment by:
Thank you. I appreciate and learn from the views of our readers. As I’m sure you know, since 2014 this newspaper has been extensively covering the issues surrounding the local impacts of tribal actions on property rights and taxpayers. Every story is available on this website under the Tribal Land Tax and Shelter Bay lease subsections of the News section at the top of the homepage.
You said you found our stories on Saturday’s Elaine Willman program “one-sided and biased in favor of the protestors.”
As the editor on these stories, one of my concerns was that people might see bias going the opposite way – that reading what the protesters had to say would show that they were unable to articulate their position without invoking Hitler, racism and their other “R word,” Republicans.
In other words, I am aware there is a possibility that some readers could consider their statements irrational and decide that they are nut jobs.
Again, thank you for your comment and thanks for reading our paper. Sincerely,
Posted: Thursday, May 25, 2017
Article comment by:
I was present at E. Willman's workshop and was a witness to the activities. Several protesters were invited inside in order to have a respectful dialogue. We listened respectfully until the calm changed to rudeness. The protester would not return the microphone to Elaine and proceeded to beat his drum very loudly while shouting incoherently. The protesters became louder and louder and would not leave peacefully. The police had to be called to remove them. Your article was completely one sided and biased in favor of the protestors. Elaine tried to convey the facts and shed light on the corruption that is rampant between tribal governments and local, city, state, and federal governments. You did not mention that the Swinomish tribal government is receiving tax dollars from Shelter Bay residents which may very well be unconstitutional. I expected a higher degree of professionalism from both Nicole Jennings and Judy Booth. The issues are complex and require lots of probing to get to the facts. I hope you can do a better job in the future when covering these important issues. With Respect, Dan McCaughan