Land transfer brings closure to Lummi tribe 20 years after ancestors’ remains disturbed

A procession, song and prayer commemorated a transfer of land at Semiahmoo, from the city of Blaine to the Lummi Nation.

SEMIAHMOO SPIT, Whatcom County — First there was a human cranium, then a large leg bone, and teeth; then Al Scott Johnnie knew he was looking at the remains of his ancestors, disturbed in the construction of a sewage treatment plant.

The violation of a Lummi village site and burial ground at Semiahmoo Spit nearly 20 years ago was remembered this week, in a ceremonial procession. Once there, Harry Robinson, mayor of Blaine, signed over the deed to the nearly 2-acre site to Tim Ballew II, chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council, on behalf of the Lummi Nation.

“It is good to see this finally happening, that we were able to bring some closure,” said Ballew, who signed the transfer seated at a folding table next to Robinson, set just in front of where the ancestors were reburied.

Wrapped in hand-woven Coast Salish blankets presented for the occasion, the two passed the papers between them, sealing a small but redemptive act. Tribal members in black-feathered headdresses and ceremonial dress stood behind them as they signed, singing, drumming and shaking deer-hoof rattles. A pair of eagles repeatedly flew over the property.

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After the signing, Robinson told the crowd, assembled facing the burial site, “We know this is sacred ground. We look forward to continuing the relationship we established in this process and continuing to work with you in the future.”

The singers had led about 100 people to the site to witness the signing, including tribal elders and cultural leaders and many who worked at the site, sifting through the material disturbed in construction, to find the bones and belongings of their ancestors.

An attorney for the tribe ultimately had to fly to Colorado to track down human remains carted off the site in vegetable boxes by the archaeologist supervising the job. Some 450 dump-truck loads of cultural material from the site full of human remains and artifacts also had been dumped in stockpiles and even sold as fill.

“We literally drove around the county, looking for fresh piles of shell midden in people’s yards,” said Alyson Rollins, today a physical anthropologist for the tribe. Shell middens are layers of cooking remains, particularly bones, shell and grease, deposited through years of human use of a…

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