Hello there! I am Abby Yates, Account Director with Shank Marketing and an enrolled member of the Nooksack Indian Tribe. I am thrilled to share a glimpse into my life and why Native American Heritage Month is especially meaningful to me. In addition to being enrolled with my tribe, my children are enrolled members of the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe.
To get the full picture and begin to understand my background, we have to start at the beginning. Growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I witnessed discrimination toward my father due to the color of his skin and discrimination against my mother for being married to a Native American. Growing up in a biracial family was certainly an experience. Ultimately, those memories are part of what shaped me into a very compassionate and accepting person who wants to motivate change.
Today I see all the good tribes are doing every single day to help mitigate the effects of climate change, to save the salmon and orca and to help pass important legislation that will benefit all of us. I am so proud every single day to say I am Native American.
I live on the ancestral land of my family. This means that my family has lived on this land since time immemorial. Native Americans were not allowed to own land after most were pushed to reservations in the 1800s. The Point Elliot Treaty was signed in 1855 by *most* Pacific Northwest tribes. My tribe, the Nooksack Indian Tribe, was unable to send a representative to the treaty signing, due to being snowed in and up river. Because we were not at the signing, Nooksacks were grouped together with Lummi Nation Native Americans. While Nooksack and Lummi have worked together for so long, we are different tribes with different cultures and traditions. It was completely unfair of the government to try to push Nooksack people onto the Lummi Reservation. But that is exactly what happened starting in 1855.
Instead of giving in to these unreasonable demands, many Nooksack families stood their ground and continued to maintain their lands in hopes of one day getting the Nooksack Indian Tribe federally recognized as a tribe. In the 1890s, Bill Soce, my Great Great Great-Grandfather, worked with a white farmer and got him to “sponsor” him. That’s right, back then Native Americans were legally not allowed to own land and had to prove their worth. They then had to get sponsored to get their land turned into federal trust land. The land was still not legally theirs. But they could live on it without the threat of being pushed off due to simply being Native American. I am so incredibly grateful that my family fought to keep this land. This land is our home.
Every morning I wake up to the sound of the river flowing and eagles chattering away and I feel so blessed. A couple mornings ago there was a 5-point buck meandering across the back yard. He then went down the river bank and through the backwater, and then onto the island that separates the backwater from the main river channel. This land that Bill Soce homesteaded more than 120 years ago is still providing for my family. Currently eight families and multiple generations of the Soce heritage are represented here. This land is so special to all of us.
I grew up playing in the backwater during the Summer, swinging on a rope swing attached to cedars, watching my dad clean salmon and prepare them for smoking in the backyard and knowing just how important it was to preserve this for that one day when I had children of my own.
Today I am proud to say I am involved in really important work with my tribe. I work with Salmon Need Water to help educate the local community about the importance of treaty and water rights with the Nooksack River basin. This work is so meaningful. Not only are the salmon runs important to our people, they are also so important to the Southern Resident Orcas. Those orcas depend on our salmon runs for nourishment. The Southern Resident Orcas are endangered, as are the Chinook Salmon they depend on. The work Salmon Need Water is doing will make a substantial impact for generations to come.
Beyond that, protecting the water rights within the Nooksack Basin protects everyone in this area. As highlighted in an article by John Ryan of KUOW, in the Summer of 2021, an estimated 2,500 Chinook salmon died before they could reach their spawning grounds in Whatcom County. This isn’t a future problem. It is a NOW problem. I am so proud of the leadership within the Nooksack Tribe and Lummi Nation. They are working together to face these issues head-on.
When my feet hit the water or the ground on my familial land, I know that this is home. I also know just how important it is to protect for generations of the George family, and for all, to come. Native American Heritage Month is important to showcase stories like these. Bill Soce chose to protect this land for our family. And today I am choosing to continue that fight to protect what is important to our people. So many people within the local tribes and community are doing their part and I am proud to be a part of it. To learn more, please visit Salmon Need Water or the Nooksack Indian Tribe and Lummi Nation websites.