Activists occupy the front steps of the State Capitol

Call for protection of treaty rights, salmon, and the environment

By TAYLOR MCAVOY | WNPA Olympia News Bureau

OLYMPIA — Climate activists erected tents and tipis Jan. 8 in front of the State Capitol building on the opening day of the Legislature’s 60-day session.

“We are here today in prayer,” said Paul Che Oketen Wagner, a citizen of the Saanich First Nation and member of Protectors of the Salish Sea of Canada.

Wagner said the capitol grounds are Native lands under the Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854. He said the group hoped to occupy the space between the legislative building and the state Supreme Court for the duration of the session.

The climate groups are demanding the state government uphold treaty rights, stop liquified natural gas construction in Tacoma, and abolish open-pen fish farms that they say endanger native salmon and other fish.

Bill Layman of Climate Conversations in north central Washington called for a carbon tax, all-electric link transportation, and water-based renewable energy.

Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed a carbon tax this session.

“You don’t know about a person until you’ve walked around in their fins,” said Ed Chaad, founding member of Olympic Climate Action, who was dressed as an orca. Chaad called on lawmakers to pass legislation protecting the Salish Sea from noise pollution and from risk of oil spills from increased tankers in the area.

State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, announced his proposed package of legislation that would re-examine emergency response for oil spills, establish a permanent tug vessel response, increase enforcement of orca protection laws, and eliminate new leases for Atlantic salmon net pens.

In the Senate chambers, as newly elected lawmakers were sworn in, climate action group members chanted, “We have a climate crisis. We need to act now.” Ranker warned, “They will defeat their own cause [by] disrupting the Senate like that.”

Wagner and Protectors of the Salish Sea said they have a right to a say on the land.

According to the state Department of Enterprise Services, the activists set up the tents at 6 a.m. Jan. 8. Officers negotiated with the group and agreed that they had until 5 p.m. to move the tent from capitol grounds. Activists refused.

A few individuals stayed in one remaining tent overnight. Washington State Patrol and the Department of Enterprise Services were continuing conversations with activists Jan. 9 in an effort to remove the tent.

— Taylor McAvoy is a reporter for the WNPA Olympia News Bureau