Native American Students Building Tiny Homes For Homeless

More than a dozen Native American pre-apprentice students studying construction hope the tiny houses they've built will help homeless people get back on their feet. (Photo: KING)

More than a dozen Native American pre-apprentice students studying construction hope the tiny houses they’ve built will help homeless people get back on their feet.
(Photo: KING)

By Josh Green | KING 5 News

TULALIP – More than a dozen Native American pre-apprentice students studying construction hope the tiny houses they’ve built will help homeless people get back on their feet.

During the last weeks, the students at The Tulalip Construction Training Center have constructed two tiny houses, about 8′ x 12′ and the size of a bedroom, that are earmarked for Nickelsville Homeless Encampment in Seattle.

“I feel like it could turn someone around,” said Philip Falcon, a 21-year old from the Coeur D’Alene Tribe in Idaho. “A roof over their head, they feel secure. They can secure themselves and move on.”

Sharon Lee, Executive Director of The Low Income Housing Institute said the group paid for the wood and materials, about $1,800 total, and that they hope eventually 15 homes will go on church-owned property.

“We have had a woman with a broken leg in a wheelchair. She’s a victim of domestic violence,” Lee said about Nickelsville as she stood in one of the houses Monday. “She’s in a wheelchair with a broken leg and a little kid living in a tent. It’s absurd.”

Each shelter is smaller than 120 square feet, which falls under less strict permitting rules in the city of Seattle. Lee said these homes have insulation and could eventually be hooked up for lighting or heat as they work with the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd to host the houses at a new site in the Central District.

City of Seattle information about shelter regulations

“It makes a big difference. We’ve had so many families with young children and the kids are – can you imagine – trying to do their homework by flashlight? So here at least there will be electricity,” she said. “This will feel like – not the perfect home. But it’ll feel like a home with privacy, with walls.”

Before students received a diploma and a ceremonial hammer from the Tulalip Tribal Employment Rights Office Monday, they heard from John Hord, who currently lives in a tent at Nickelsville. Hord is a Chippewa from Minnesota and a carpenter. About four and a half months ago, he lost his housing.

“Nickelsville isn’t about being accepted into Nickelsville – here’s where I’m going to stay the rest of my life – Nickelsville is a platform to build on and make the next step in life,” he said. “Way into the future – hopefully 15, 20 years from now those structures are still going to be changing people’s lives.”


Five ‘Raging Grannies’ Arrested In Anti-Shell Protest At Terminal 5

Image via Twitter/@DJackQ13FOX

Image via Twitter/@DJackQ13FOX

Five members of the Seattle activist group the “Raging Grannies” were arrested by police Tuesday morning during a protest outside Terminal 5.

But it wasn’t easy.

The women, dressed in long skirts and sun hats and sipping from porcelain teacups, were bound together by so-called “sleeping dragons,” makeshift sleeves constructed with materials designed to make their removal difficult and time-consuming.

The “grannies” were part of two simultaneous protests against Shell’s offshore oil rig, which is at the terminal being prepared for Arctic drilling this summer.

While a group of younger protesters camped out on an overpass above, with two heavy oil drums and signs, the grannies chained their wooden rocking chairs together on the BNSF Railway tracks below. The women were also bound together by the homemade arm sleeves.

Seattle police Lt. Jim Arata warned the younger protesters that they had to move their oil drums and get off the overpass above Terminal 5, or face arrest. When the department’s Apparatus Response Team (ART) pulled up with a truck full of saws, jackhammers and other heavy-duty tools in case the protesters were chained to the oil drums, the protesters got up and walked away.

The five grannies, on the other hand, stayed put when the team arrived.

The department formed ART during Seattle’s 1999 WTO riots as a specialty team trained to safely remove protesters who chain themselves to objects or each other, Arata said.

Related: More Arctic drilling protests planned in Seattle

ART members spent about 10 minutes sawing and cutting into two separate “sleeping dragons,” which linked the four “grannies” together by the arms.

Arata said that when police sawed through the duct tape-covered arm sleeves they found rope, rebar, metal and burlap. He said that police covered the grannies in fireproof blankets while they cut through the sleeves to protect them from flying debris.

Seattle Police cut through chains that two women protestors left, Cynthia Linet, right, and Annette Klapstein, right, use to bind themselves together, at Terminal 5, in protest of the Shell Oil rig, Tuesday morning, June 9, 2015. The women are covered with protective tarps while the chains are removed.

Seattle Police cut through chains that two women protestors left, Cynthia Linet, right, and Annette Klapstein, right, use to bind themselves together, at Terminal 5, in protest of the Shell Oil rig.

“They’re meant to slow us down and defeat us,” Arata said about the sleeves.

While ART members worked, a nearby crowd of about 30 protesters chanted “rock on, grannies” and sang songs in support.

The five women — the oldest was 92 — were arrested for investigation of obstruction and pedestrian interference. They were processed and released from the department’s Southwest Precinct in West Seattle.

BNSF spokesman Gun Melonas said trains going through the area were held from 6:30 a.m. until around 10 a.m. because of the protest.

Southwest Precinct Capt. Pierre Davis the arrests “gave them [the grannies] a visual victory.” He said police were prepared for the two protests at Terminal 5 and had medics on scene in case there were any injuries.

Stina Janssen, a spokeswoman for the ShellNo! Action Council, which opposes Shell’s offshore Arctic oil-drilling fleet, said the protesters were trying to “block work Tuesday in order to stop Shell drilling’s oil rig from going out on time.”

Janssen said the grannies want to prevent Arctic drilling and keep “our planet inhabitable for future generations.”

By Jennifer Sullivan and Evan Bush in Seattle Times


Seattle: Despite Protests, Arctic Drill Rig Preparations Continue

Protesters accompanied by Seattle police march at the Port of Seattle, Monday, May 18, 2015, in Seattle. Demonstrators opposed to Arctic oil drilling were showing opposition to a lease agreement between Royal Dutch Shell and the Port to allow some of Shell’s oil drilling equipment to be based in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

By Phuong Le | Associated Press

SEATTLE — Neither a protest by hundreds of demonstrators nor a permit violation notice from the city will halt Royal Dutch Shell’s use of a Seattle seaport terminal as it prepares for exploratory oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean, spokesmen say.

The violation notice issued Monday by the Seattle Department of Planning and Development said use of Terminal 5 by a massive floating drill rig was in violation of the site’s permitted use as a cargo terminal. The 400-foot Polar Pioneer and its support tug Aiviq must be removed from the terminal or Shell’s host, Foss Maritime, must obtain an appropriate permit, the city indicated.

Possible fines start at $150 per day and can rise to $500 per day. The notice said the violation must be corrected by June 4. The companies can appeal and-or request extensions.

“It remains our view that the terms agreed upon by Shell, Foss and the Port of Seattle for use of Terminal 5 are valid, and it’s our intention to continue loading-out our drilling rigs in preparation for exploratory drilling offshore Alaska,” Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said.

“Terminal 5 is permitted to tie up ships while they are being loaded and unloaded,” Foss Maritime spokesman Paul Queary said. “That is exactly what Foss is doing there.”

Queary noted that both Foss and the Port of Seattle are appealing an earlier determination by the city that the use of Terminal 5 was not permitted. Monday’s violation notice followed that determination.

Earlier Monday, protesters spent several hours blocking entrances to the terminal where the rig will be loaded before heading to waters off Alaska this summer.

Holding banners and flags, demonstrators marched across a bridge to Terminal 5, temporarily closing the road during Monday morning’s commute. Once at the terminal, they spread out across the entrances and rallied, danced and spoke for several hours before leaving the site in the early afternoon.

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant was among the speakers. She said political leaders had failed to deal with climate change and called for “an escalating series of mass nonviolent civil disobedience until this madness is stopped,” The Seattle Times reported.

Organizers had prepared to engage in civil disobedience to stop work on the drill rig, but Seattle police said Monday afternoon that no one had been arrested and the demonstration remained peaceful. A few dozen officers followed the march on foot and bicycle and kept watch at the terminal.

“I’m not planning to get arrested,” protester Jennifer Jones told The Times. “It would be very inconvenient to get arrested in Washington state. We’re from Portland.”

The mass demonstration was the latest protest of the Polar Pioneer’s arrival in Seattle. Protesters greeted the rig Thursday, and then hundreds of activists in kayaks and other vessels turned out Saturday for a protest dubbed the “Paddle in Seattle.”

Smith said in an email Monday that the “activities of the day were anticipated and did not stop crews from accomplishing meaningful work in preparation for exploration offshore Alaska this summer.”

There were minimal operations at Terminal 5, “so there’s not much to block,” Port of Seattle spokesman Peter McGraw said. The operator of Terminal 18, a major hub of port activity where the march began, closed those gates in anticipation of the demonstration, he said.

Officials have been urging people to exercise their First Amendment rights safely, and “that’s what we’ve been seeing so far,” McGraw said.

The activists say they are concerned about the risk of an oil spill in the remote Arctic waters and the effects that tapping new frontiers of oil and gas reserves will have on global warming. Officials in Alaska have touted the economic benefits that drilling could bring there and to the Pacific Northwest.

On Monday, protesters of all ages sang, rapped and danced at the vehicle gate of Terminal 5. They chanted and held signs saying “Climate Justice For All” and “You Shell Not Pass.”

Lisa Marcus, 58, a musician who participated in Saturday’s protest, turned up with her “Love the planet” sign for another day of activism Monday.

“We’ve got to wake up” to the dangers of human-caused climate change, she said, ticking off a list of environmental problems that the world is facing. “Shell is trying to make it worse, and that’s not acceptable.”

Seattle ‘Kayaktivists’ Protest Shell’s Arctic Drilling Endeavor

Activists in kayaks form a flotilla in Elliott Bay to protest Shell's oil rig, the Polar Pioneer, moored at the Port of Seattle.

Activists in kayaks form a flotilla in Elliott Bay to protest Shell’s oil rig, the Polar Pioneer, moored at the Port of Seattle.

(Reuters) – Hundreds of activists in kayaks and small boats fanned out on a Seattle bay on Saturday to protest plans by Royal Dutch Shell to resume oil exploration in the Arctic and keep two of its drilling rigs stored in the city’s port.

Environmental groups have vowed to disrupt the Anglo-Dutch oil company’s efforts to use the Seattle as a home base as it outfits the rigs to return to the Chukchi Sea off Alaska, saying drilling in the remote Arctic waters could lead to an ecological catastrophe.

Demonstrators have planned days of protests, both on land and in Elliott Bay, home to the Port of Seattle, where the first of the two rigs docked on Thursday.

Kayakers on Saturday paddled around the rig yelling “Shell No.” Others unfurled a large banner that read “Climate Justice.”

Environmental groups contend harsh and shifting weather conditions make it impossible to drill in the Arctic, a region with a fragile environment that helps regulate the global climate because of its vast layers of sea ice.

Allison Warden, 42, said she traveled from Alaska to represent her native Inupiaq tribe, which makes its home in the Arctic. She said whales central to the tribe’s culture are particularly vulnerable to oil spills.

“I don’t know what our culture would be without whaling. It’s at the center of everything we do,” she said. “It’s a different relationship than just going to the grocery store. The whale feeds the entire community,” she said.

Opponents of the rigs docking in Seattle, a city known for its environmental causes, include Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council.

Shell was bringing in the rigs and moving ahead as planned despite the opposition and a ruling earlier this week by the city’s planning department that the port’s agreement with the company was in violation of its city permit.

“The timeline now is just to make sure the rigs are ready to go,” said Curtis Smith, a Shell spokesman.

The second rig is expected at the port in the coming days.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management gave conditional approval to Shell’s resumption of fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic, which was suspended after a mishap-filled 2012 season.

The decision was met with approval by some Alaska lawmakers, who said it would bring money and jobs to the state. (Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Eric Beech and Steve Orlofsky)

Idle No More Washington ~ From the Arctic to the Salish Sea

dle No More ~ From the Arctic to the Salish Sea. Photo: Facebook

Idle No More ~ From the Arctic to the Salish Sea. Photo: Facebook

Idle No More ~ From the Arctic to the Salish Sea

Hosted by Idle No More Washington

Saturday May 16, 2015, 10 am – 4:30 pm. Seacrest Marina Park: 1660 Harbor Ave SW, Seattle, Washington 98126

  • 10:00 am – Canoes gather at Seacrest Marina
  • 11-12:30 – Canoes leave for a short pull for photo op, board the barge for a jam session, open mic, music, and speakers.
  • 1:00 pm – Pull to Jack Block Park, 2130 Harbor Ave SW, Seattle
  • 2:00 pm – Duwamish Welcoming, Landing Protocol, Opening Blessing, and speakers.
  • 3:45 pm – Water Blessing Ceremony (please bring a container of water from your area)
  • 4:00 pm – Closing Prayer

In solidarity with our Alaskan brothers and sisters in the Arctic, and all the Coast Salish tribes who are the original stewards of the Salish Sea we come together in a good way to unify in Spirit for prayer, ceremony, and songs to bring a peaceful resolution to preserve and protect the Arctic from the proposed drilling by Shell.

We invite all our Native brothers and sisters to join us in support of not allowing Royal Dutch Shell to use the Port of Seattle Terminal #5 for their drilling rigs, stopping the drilling in the Arctic, and how could we instead support sustainable energy sources. We must ask how can we support Alaska Natives in finding other sources of revenue and work that is not devastating to their traditional way of life, contribute to climate change, and rising sea levels.

We will have travel stipends available for canoe families coming from far away, reserve some hotel rooms with double beds for Friday (sorry for the late notice, but we would need to know before Friday if you need a room), a dinner on Friday at 6 pm. Please contact Sweetwater if your canoe family can make it and how we can assist with accommodations. Bring your drums, regalia, signs, and be #IdleNoMore

PLAN TO ARRIVE EARLY. We encourage public transit. There will be a shuttle from a nearby parking area. Traffic will be very congested and may take 30-45min longer than normal.

Driving Directions from the north to Seacrest Marina

1) Merge onto I-5 S.

2) Take EXIT 163A toward W Seattle Br/Columbian Way/W Seattle Br N.

3) Merge onto W Seattle Bridge W toward Spokane St N.

4) Take the Harbor Ave/Avalon Way exit.

5) Turn right onto Harbor Ave SW.

6) 1660 HARBOR AVE SW is on the right.

Event Page: https://www.facebook.comevents/435811393260441/

Activists Use Tripod To Block Shell’s Seattle Operations:

  • Days after the Foss Maritime announced that they intended to defy Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, and illegally host Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet, Seattle activists have blockaded Shell’s Seattle fuel transfer station by erecting a tripod.

Photo: RisingTideNA (Twitter) 2015-05-12

Next week, thousands of protestors from Seattle and beyond plan to converge at terminal 5 and Harbor Island to non-violently resist the progress of Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs and support vessels.  On May 16 a family-friendly Paddle in Seattle will rally people on water and land to protest their presence.  Then  May 18,  activists plan direct action on land. Read more about “Festival of Resistance” at

Activists Use Tripod To Block Shell’s Seattle Operations

courtesy RisingTideNA (Twitter)

courtesy RisingTideNA (Twitter)

from Rising Tide North America / Earth First! 

Days after the Foss Maritime announced that they intended to defy Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, and illegally host Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet, Seattle activists have blockaded Shell’s Seattle fuel transfer station by erecting a tripod.

Seattle resident Annie Lukins, who is suspended from the top of the tripod, says she made the decision to block the facility because like everyone who lives near the shore, she has a stake in stopping Shell.  “Shell already knows the impacts of drilling in the arctic.

They are placing themselves in defiance of climate science, in defiance of the treaty subsistence rights of the Inupiat, and in defiance of our elected official here in Seattle. I’m here because I’m not the only young person who wants to raise her children near the shore. Whether they are my kids or the kids of the Inupiat people of the arctic, I want the next generation to be able to to eat fish from the ocean whose flesh doesn’t carry the killing toxins of crude oil. Shell has already proven they cannot safely operate in the arctic, and the niger delta has shown us that they don’t clean up after themselves. We need to ban arctic drilling now.”

“By coming to seattle in defiance of the mayor’s announcement, Shell is proving again what we already know.” Said Marianna Coles Curtis, who helped support the protest “They are getting away with illegally docking their drilling fleet here by paying $500 a day.

It’s like a parking ticket.  This is a company that made nearly $15 billion in profits last year, so $500 a day isn’t anything to them. It just shows how companies like Shell, BP, and Exxon can trample all over a community, and then get away with a small fine that hardly takes a chip out of their profit.”

Shell’s criminal activities are worldwide.  The oil giant has come under public scrutiny for numerous environmental and human rights violations. Shell is responsible for the spilling of 1.5 million tons of oil in the Niger Delta over the last 50 years. According to human rights watch groups, Shell has made inadequate efforts to remediate impacts, and the oil has led to massive fish kills which have devastated the local fishing economy.

Shell’s Arctic drilling mission has also sparked controversy. In 2012, Shell ran one of their Arctic rigs aground, violated permits regulating air pollution, and failed to certify crucial safety equipment. These violations have prompted Inupiat leaders to come forward in opposition to Shell’s Arctic drilling project, saying that it poses too great a danger to the tribe’s treaty subsistence rights.

Next week, thousands of protestors from Seattle and beyond plan to converge at terminal 5 and Harbor Island to non-violently resist the progress of Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs and support vessels.  On May 16 a family-friendly Paddle in Seattle will rally people on water and land to protest their presence.  Then  May 18,  activists plan direct action on land. Read more about “Festival of Resistance” at

“We are going to stand up.” Lukins said. “Until Barak Obama has to make a choice – arrest an entire movement for standing in defense of our own environment and in defense of the treaty rights of indigenous people, or end arctic drilling!”

DIRECTIONS: The Tripod is on 16th Ave Southwest on Harbor Island, just north of the corner of 16th Ave SW and Lander St. Turn north onto 16th Ave SW off of Spokane St and drive north until lander street, the protest will be on your right.

Posted by Earth First!, Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

Artist vows to restore defaced Native American murals

Andrew Morrison is shown Monday with his murals at the Wilson-Pacific school campus in North Seattle. The letters “DAPKILO” were painted over the faces of Chief Joseph, Geronimo and Sitting Bull. “He was stupid enough to write his own name,” Morrison said of the vandal. (Mark Harrison/The Seattle Times) Less

Andrew Morrison is shown Monday with his murals at the Wilson-Pacific school campus in North Seattle. The letters “DAPKILO” were painted over the faces of Chief Joseph, Geronimo and Sitting Bull. “He was stupid enough to write his own name,” Morrison said of the vandal. (Mark Harrison/The Seattle Times) Less

By CHRISTINE CLARRIDGE | Seattle Times staff reporter

Just months before a set of larger-than-life murals honoring local Native Americans was scheduled to be memorialized on a new school’s campus, a graffiti vandal defaced the artwork in an act described by the murals’ creator as “stupid” and an “act of terrorism.

The vandal who defaced larger-than-life murals of Native Americans in North Seattle over the weekend destroyed in one day what took the artist 12 years to create, the artist said.

“This is not an ordinary act of graffiti,” said Andrew Morrison. “It is an act of hatred and viciousness that has created heartbreak and confusion in a place where people are supposed to feel safe.”

Morrison said he learned of the vandalism to what has been called “The Great Walls of Heritage” Sunday night and drove up to see the damage for himself on Monday.

The Auburn resident, who is an art curator at Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in Seattle’s Discovery Park, said it was the first time the murals have been defaced.

The eight murals — which are visible from blocks away — include 25-foot-tall black, white and gray portraits of Chief Seattle, Sitting Bull and other historic figures from local Native American communities.

The portraits, which are painted on the outside walls of Seattle Public Schools’ Wilson-Pacific School campus — once home to the Indian Heritage Middle College — are among just a few notable examples of local public art honoring Native Americans.

The vandal, Morrison said, probably had to use a ladder and buckets of paint to cause such extensive damage. The person painted over the towering mural the letters DAPKILO, which Morrison said represent the vandal’s affiliation and tagger name.

DAP, he said, stands for Down Around Pike and is the name of a crew of graffiti artists. KILO, he said, is the name of one of the group’s members.

“We know who did it,” Morrison said in a telephone interview Monday. “He was stupid enough to write his own name.”

Morrison said the crime is an “act of terrorism” against him, his family, his people and his tribe and that it was “race-related, hate-related and idiot-related — all three.”

However, Seattle Police Department spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said that while the vandalism is “absolutely reprehensible, there isn’t any evidence to suggest this is a hate crime.”

He said the matter is being investigated by the department’s graffiti detective.

The vandalism occurred just months before work on the preservation of the artwork was about to start.

Two years ago, it appeared the murals might be destroyed during demolition of the old school campus to make way for a new one with two schools. The school district originally proposed memorializing the portraits by photographing them and displaying the images in the new schools, but Morrison balked.

“The 25-foot Chief Seattle is the largest commemoration of the city’s namesake in the country,” Morrison said. “Why would they want to destroy it?”

The plan to destroy the murals was met with opposition from people here and across the country who pleaded with school-district officials to save Morrison’s work.

The district ultimately agreed to save the concrete on which the murals are painted and incorporate them into the new campus.

Morrison said he spent Monday at the site, reassuring people that the paintings would somehow be restored and that everything would be OK.

“I’m going to do my best to fix it. … I’m going to do my best to stand tall, help bring this person to justice and restore peace and resolution,” he said.

Tribe joins opposition to school demolition


The former Wilson Pacific School in North Seattle (Photo: KING)

Chris Ingalls | KING 5 News

SEATTLE — A direct descendant of Seattle’s namesake, Chief Sealth, has come out in opposition of a plan to demolish a Seattle school complex.

Sealth’s great, great grandniece Cecelia Hansen says tearing down the former Wilson Pacific School in north Seattle sends the wrong message.

“Today it’s just like they want to erase that history and it’s wrong,” Hansen told KING 5.

For many years, Wilson Pacific has been the headquarters for programs specialized for Native American students.

The school buildings are also adorned with murals by renowned artist Andrew Morrison, including a two story high portrait of Chief Sealth.

“They forgot the history on this land. It was given up by our people,” said Hansen. She is the chairwoman of the Duwamish tribe which originally inhabited Seattle.

When Wilson Pacific was built in 1953, it covered up a stream where tribes gathered for centuries.

But the 60-year-old building is in bad shape. Voters approved the construction of two new schools on the site.

“We understand that our site there is spiritually significant,” said Tom Redman of the Seattle School District.

He says the district has plans to honor significance of the site.It will preserve the murals on the present school buildings and install them once construction is complete on the new buildings.

He also says the new Lichton Springs Elementary School will have a Native American education program.

Opponents worry the new facilities won’t go far enough to honor Indian history.

“So if we had a Native American high school or grade school, that’d be wonderful,” said Hansen.

How This Indigenous Wood Carver Is Finding Peace After a Seattle Officer Killed His Brother

Rick Williams carving in Seattle City Center. Photo by Kayla Schultz.

Rick Williams carving in Seattle City Center. Photo by Kayla Schultz.

By Kayla Schultz | YES! Magazine

Rick Williams sits outside Seattle’s Space Needle carving totem poles until dark, a workday that can reach up to 12 hours. Tourists and Seattleites approach the picnic table where he sits, examining the intricate designs he carves with only a pocket knife. The children in his family were taught to carve when they were about 7 years old, with techniques passed down through generations.

The Williams family legacy in Seattle started in the 1920s, when grandfather Sam Williams began carving for Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. Although he has lost many of his family members through the years, Williams holds their traditions and memories close.

In August 2010, Williams was reunited with his brother John T. Williams. For two days they sat at a bench in the city, carving with other family members and catching up on the years they spent apart. John had lost hearing in his left ear, and his sight was deteriorating. He went for a walk, saying he would return shortly, but on his way back a police officer spotted the knife in his hand.

Born into a family of First Nation master carvers, John usually carried the knife around, along with a piece of wood. The officer yelled for John to drop the knife, and seconds later fired his gun four times, killing him.

With the recent deaths of Eric Garner and Mike Brown, who were also killed by police officers, Rick Williams noted the connections between those police-related incidents and the one involving his brother. In each case, the officers used excessive force when the situations could have been de-escalated by other means, according to Williams, who called the incidents a “sickness.” Although problems may be rooted in basic police training, they are also influenced by perceptions of danger based on race and culture.

When the grand jury ruled not to indict Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Missouri, officer responsible for the death of Mike Brown, the victim’s family asked protesters to keep the gatherings peaceful—something Williams had also asked in honor of his brother four years ago.

Rick Williams holding a totem pole he hand-carved and painted. Photo by Kayla Schultz.

Rick Williams holding a totem pole he hand-carved and painted. Photo by Kayla Schultz.

“The family from Ferguson asked for peace and calm, and I literally fell out of the couch I was sitting on because he said the same thing I did: peace and calm,” Williams said. “And I’m like, thank you, they are listening. The only way you can help change the system is show them you are a human being and [say], ‘You have [taken] something from me you shouldn’t have. How dare you?’”

After John’s death, people in Seattle began filling the streets in protest. Native American communities came together, playing traditional drums to honor John. Other protesters held signs that read “Another stolen life. Stop police brutality.”

As the protests started to escalate, Williams wondered how his family could coexist with a police department that didn’t understand his culture and quickly reacted with gunfire.

Andrea Brenneke, Williams’ lawyer, suggested arranging a restorative circle that would bring the family and police together to candidly discuss: the effects of the shooting; how to bridge the cultural gap between Native Americans and police; and ways to prevent unwarranted killings in the future. Both Police Chief John Diaz and Williams agreed to the restorative circle.

Having no previous experience in conducting them, Brenneke started researching restorative circles and how to get the best results. About two weeks after the shooting, they met.

Williams and his brother Eric had the chance to speak directly to six representatives of the police department at the restorative circle, which also included two family friends, two facilitators (one being Brenneke), and two people from the Chief Seattle Club, an organization that gives aid to American Indians and Alaska natives.

“It took a lot of leadership for [the police department] to have a conversation,” Brenneke said. “We wanted to create a safe space to engage and address issues, and meet those needs.”

Everyone had agreed that the details of the shooting were off-limits for discussion—it was still under investigation. Instead, they would focus on how the city’s Native American communities felt disrespected and misunderstood by the police, and how interactions had become strained.

The shooting had created fear among Natives, especially those who were carvers. Williams relied on the money he made selling totem poles on the streets of Seattle, and was worried about his safety and the safety of other street artists. He often dug into pieces of wood as he walked around the city, but now didn’t feel comfortable, even where he first learned the art. Native art and history are deeply embedded in Seattle culture, so many didn’t understand how an officer could be ignorant about the items John was holding when he was shot.

Rick Williams carving his name into a totem pole a customer purchased. Photo by Kayla Schultz.

Rick Williams carving his name into a totem pole a customer purchased. Photo by Kayla Schultz.

In Brenneke’s article accounting her experience in the restorative circle, she said there had been complaints of police making comments to the Williams family, causing more tension.

“A teenaged member of the Williams family asked an officer, ‘I am a carver, and these are my tools. If I have this knife, will you shoot me too?’ The officer responded, ‘You don’t want to test that theory now, do you?’” Brenneke wrote.

During the restorative circle, the group spent three hours talking about those issues, and created an action plan, which the Seattle Times published. Police training was the main topic of discussion, including the agreement for the department to explore anti-racism training, create a mentoring system between senior and junior officers, and teach the department Native American customs, like carving, that they should be aware of while on duty. In the months after the restorative circle, Williams and the police had follow-up meetings where they shared progress made in the action plan.

“I see a lot of changes [in the Seattle Police Department]; slow, but I see a lot of changes,” Williams said. “This [restorative] circle can take off. It can work.”

After finishing the restorative circle, Brenneke and the Seattle Police Department began working on a pilot program called the City of Seattle Restorative Justice Initiative. Brenneke became the director for a year, but the city council eliminated the pilot program’s funding in 2014.

The elimination of the program didn’t stop communication, however. After the Darren Wilson ruling was announced, and Seattle’s streets were again filled with protesters, police were invited to converse with people at a community center.

Brenneke said that people were not happy—they were angry and wanted the police to leave. But she and the other organizers wanted the police in attendance because it allowed open dialogue where many perspectives could be discussed and understood. She said the police officers shared their personal feelings and how they were affected by the ruling.

“Protests are very important, but in addition, it’s important for people to have a deeper dialogue,” Brenneke said. “Dialogue encapsulates a different thing, a profound thing where you learn at an intimate level how it’s affecting someone else.”

The police department was unavailable for comment, but former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper said he’s been an advocate of restorative justice for decades.

“Restorative justice makes infinite good sense, especially when police officers come with an open mind and heart,” he said. “Police are resistant to criticism and say, ‘You don’t know what it’s like for us. We want to go home at the end of each shift.’”

Stamper said that police need to assess the ways they approach perceived threats so they can create safer outcomes. In the aftermath of Ferguson, Missouri, and New York, task forces will probably spend months or years studying police practices to create proper training, but restorative circles could help promote healing in the meantime, said Stamper.

A 34-Foot Totem Pole Keeps Williams Going

Totem pole carved by Rick Williams. Photo by Kayla Schultz

Williams didn’t realize his story had been heard around the world until a woman from Finland messaged him through Facebook looking for guidance. Her loved one had been killed by a police officer. Williams told her to stay calm despite the anger and to not react destructively. With his words of encouragement, she ended up winning her case, and was so grateful for his help that she made a special trip to Seattle.

“She came here and gave me a hug and thanked me, and I was like, ‘Who are you?’” he said laughing.

Williams said that carving is what saved him and keeps him going. He had been so angry after the death of his brother that he punched a tree, leaving an indentation in it. He knew he had to harness the anger, and, in March 2011, he started the John T. Williams Memorial Totem Pole Project, where he began carving a 34-foot totem pole for his brother.

As Williams peeled the bark off, he started to envision what it would look like. His family and friends started carving, and as people visited the site, Williams shared the story of his brother, inviting onlookers to help carve or sand the wood.

Totem pole located in Seattle City Center carved in memory of John T. Williams. Photo by Kayla Schultz.

In February 2012, the finished totem pole was ready to be erected next to the Space Needle in the Seattle Center. Close to 100 people helped carry the pole from the waterfront, a distance reaching a mile and a half.“I put my heart and soul into that totem project,” Williams said. “Everybody that [my family] touched in our lives was there carrying the totem.”

Williams said that his grandfather, father, and sons had never seen him with tears in his eyes, but he felt overwhelmed with energy when the totem pole was being raised. With the help of carving and community encouragement, he found a way to heal and help others.

“I keep telling the cops that for the rest of my life I will see my brother fall,” Williams said, “But I will always stand up for the people out there.”

Instead of Columbus Day, some U.S. cities celebrate Indigenous People’s Day

Native Americans in Minneapolis backed a City Council vote in April to change Columbus Day "Indigenous People's Day."

Native Americans in Minneapolis backed a City Council vote in April to change Columbus Day “Indigenous People’s Day.”

October 12, 2014

Columbus Day often brings to mind the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. This Monday, some cities and states would rather you think of the Sioux, the Suquamish and the Chippewa.

For the first time this year, Seattle and Minneapolis will recognize the second Monday in October as “Indigenous People’s Day.” The cities join a growing list of jurisdictions choosing to shift the holiday’s focus from Christopher Columbus to the people he encountered in the New World and their modern-day descendants.

The Seattle City Council voted last week to reinvent the holiday to celebrate “the thriving cultures and values of Indigenous Peoples in our region.” The Minneapolis City Council approved a similar measure in April “to reflect upon the ongoing struggles of Indigenous people on this land, and to celebrate the thriving culture and value that Dakota, Ojibwa and other indigenous nations add to our city.”

In many cities, Columbus Day is a celebration of Italian-American heritage, leading to opposition to the recasting of Columbus Day.

“Italian-Americans are deeply offended,” Lisa Marchese, a lawyer affiliated with the Order Sons of Italy in America, told The Seattle Times.”By this resolution, you say to all Italian-Americans that the city of Seattle no longer deems your heritage or your community worthy of recognition.”

President Benjamin Harrison established a celebration of Columbus Day in 1892, the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the Bahamas in 1492. The holiday started being celebrated on the second Monday in October in 1971. Today, 16 states, including Alaska, Hawaii and Oregon, don’t recognize Columbus Day as a public holiday. South Dakota has celebrated Native American Day since 1990.

Berkeley, California, is thought to be the first city to adopt Indigenous People’s Day in 1992, building on international efforts to end the celebration of Columbus’ “discovery” of the New World. The International Day of the World’s Indigenous People is celebrated on August 9 thanks to a 1994 United Nations General Assembly resolution.

The Italian explorer and his namesake holiday have long been controversial. Despite what American schoolchildren may have learned about when “Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” supporters of Indigenous People’s Day believe Columbus should not be celebrated for “discovering” America. Indigenous people had been living in the “New World” for centuries by the time he arrived, and his voyages established lasting connections between Europe and Americans that paved the way for its colonization, leading to the subjugation and decimation of the indigenous population.