Group trying to be Good Neighbors in Indianola

The Good Neighbors group in Indianola is trying to educate themselves and the community about the history of the land and build a better relationship with the Suquamish Tribe through projects and community outreach.

“As a group of neighbors and others who care about Indianola, we’ve come together to form a community with each other around principles of openness, inclusivity, and creative problem-solving. We also work together to help Indianola repair and heal the past and current wrongs, especially in our relationship with the Suquamish Tribe. We want to research, envision and develop resources and projects that will make us better stewards of the beach and make Indianola an inclusive anti-racist and welcoming community for all,” reads the group’s mission statement.

Several events led up to the creation of the Good Neighbors group, which formed last summer. But the cementing point was when a Suquamish Tribal Council member was reportedly disrespected during a community meeting regarding care for the beach in Indianola and the rights of property owners and beach visitors.

A letter was distributed among neighbors recounting an incident in which a Tribal Council member was invited to discuss the tribe’s relationship to the tidal lands. The letter explains that the tribal member grew up on the outside of Indianola but spent a lot of time in the town and on its beach and had occasionally been confronted by residents who questioned whether she was allowed to be there. The tribal member talked about issues the Suquamish Tribe has faced on its sacred lands in which Indianola sits and suggested that the tribe and Indianola residents could work together to solve these kinds of problems, stating that she viewed the beach as a community gathering space.

According to the letter, some of the waterfront property owners’ at the meeting began to recount their own grievances and were more interested in discussing their own property rights than in addressing the issues raised by the Tribal Council member.

“Several people rambled on for a long time, and the facilitator did little to limit their speaking or bring the topic back… More open points of view were expressed by a couple of people, but the overall message seemed to be that the waterfront property owners were suffering from frequent attacks and disturbances from outsiders and that their property rights were ‘the truth’ and the most important issue,” read the letter.

Despite being located on the northern shore of the Port Madison Tribal Reservation, Indianola is a predominately white town (83% according to U.S. Census). Like many towns in the Pacific Northwest, it has a complicated history when it comes to its relationship with the land, its ownership, and Native American people. Property rights on the beach at Indianola have been a hot-button issue for years.

For generations before its establishment as a beach vacation enclave, the land on which Indianola sits was the ancestral, hunting and fishing grounds to the Suquamish Tribe. Though the land was not initially part of the Treaty of Point Elliot, which created the Port Madison Reservation, it was later encompassed into the reservation.

“When the treaty was signed and the reservation was formed, not all the native families were present. At the time it was signed many were out gathering, fishing, hunting, and storing up for winter. These allotments were being given out to various families, and there was not enough land left for those that came home, so they added on to the reservation and made allotments for those families,” said Marilyn Wandrey, Suquamish tribal elder and vice president of the Suquamish Tribal Museum board of directors.

At the time access to Indianola was only accessible by boat, and many of these families did not take advantage of the allotments that were given to them, and they fell out of the trust. Additionally, Natives, usually those who were elderly and were given allotments were often deemed too incompetent in caring for the land and the land would be sold, while they were still living on it. When the famous dock was built in 1916, and more white people began becoming interested in the area, these allotments were acquired, and thus Indianola became the largely white town in the middle of a Native reservation.

Over the years Indianola has had its share of turmoil between residents and the tribe. In 1989 the Suquamish Tribe attempted to purchase land to build housing for native families, but property owners bought the property out from under the tribe to prevent the development.

More recently the Indianola Beach Club has put up signs around the dock and the beach to discourage non-Indianola residents from using the beach. One of the Good Neighbors Group’s first projects was to create welcoming signage in an effort to make Indianola a more inclusive community while respecting residents’ property rights, but educating them about the land in which their homes sit and who actually has governance over that land.

“At times signs have been placed at the entrance to the Indianola beach emphasizing that the beach is private and for Indianola residents only. Our group partly formed around the idea of creating a more welcoming atmosphere. We have worked with other community members to come up with compromises, and there is now a more welcoming sign at the top of the dock,” said Tina Gianoulis, a member of the Good Neighbor group.

Additionally, the group has also successfully proposed that Indianola adopt a welcoming resolution, which affirms that it acknowledges and respects the dignity of all people and recognizes that the land in which it sits are the ancestral lands of the Suquamish. The Good Neighbors group is also taking other steps to in affect address these past historical and present wrongs. “We are focused on anti-racist work in our relationship to both the Suquamish Tribe and other people of color living in or outside Indianola,” Gianoulis said.

There are about 25 active members of the group with close to 60 on its mailing list. The group also is active in environmental education and stewardship, de-escalation training that limits the need for law enforcement intervention, further investigation into the community’s history, and exploring ways to amend past and present injustices.

Much of that restorative justice is being done through self-education, with the hope of hosting community education events in the future. “Right now we are mainly working on educating ourselves. Because of COVID, our outreach has been limited, but as things open up, we hope to share what we’re learning at community events,” Gianoulis said.