Politics & Government

Indigenous-led group says it won’t leave the Capitol until Gov. Inslee meets 4 demands

Protectors of the Salish Sea, an indigenous-led group that walked 46 miles to the Capitol from the Tacoma area, has had a presence outside the Washington state Legislative Building since Tuesday to make their voices heard on environmental issues.

An encounter with law enforcement overnight Tuesday resulted in one arrest, according to Washington State Patrol.

Saanich tribal member Paul Chiyokten Wagner said Wednesday afternoon the group will not leave until Gov. Jay Inslee meets its four demands:

  • That Gov. Inslee declare a climate emergency in Washington state;
  • That he issue an executive order to stop fossil fuel expansion projects in the state ⁠— such as the liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility being built at the Port of Tacoma;
  • That he convene a special legislative counsel; and
  • That he honor the treaties by meeting these demands.

Tara Lee, a spokesperson with Gov. Inslee’s office, told The Olympian the governor was in New York early this week for the United Nations Climate Summit and planned to return to Washington Wednesday night. But David Postman, the governor’s chief of staff, met with some of the Protectors Tuesday, according to Lee.

“(Postman) said he doesn’t believe we have wide disagreement on goals, but a disagreement on tactics,” Lee said.

Her example: Group members reportedly said the situation at the LNG facility in Tacoma is dire enough that the governor shouldn’t be concerned about state laws, the constitution, or court orders — that Inslee should “be more like Trump and not worry about the fallout if illegal actions are taken for the right reason.”

“Obviously, we don’t agree on their approach,” Lee said.

Pete Giampietro, a group member at the Capitol Wednesday morning, called the narrative Gov. Inslee portrays regarding Washington’s progressive action on climate change “green washing,” and Wagner agreed.

“As he ran for President, he said ‘I can no longer in good conscience stand in support of Tacoma LNG and Kalama methanol,’” Wagner said. “Then what? Nothing happened. That was just to make sure that he looked green so he could get elected. He has never ... stepped up and done anything to secure the future of his children with these enormous projects.”

Giampietro said the meeting with Postman felt like lip service.

“We have called Jay Inslee out, and we want to have some redress,” Giampietro said. “We will, in one way or another, get a response from him about this directly.”

Lee said a meeting with the governor is a possibility, but that there isn’t one scheduled at this point.

On Tuesday night, Washington State Patrol removed four “tarpees” ⁠— structures Wagner designed, inspired by the design of teepees, for protests at Standing Rock in North Dakota ⁠— from outside the legislative building. People were perched on top of the structures, while others formed circles around them.

Washington State Patrol spokesperson Chris Loftis said its officers, Capitol Security, and Capitol Visitor Services monitored the area all day Tuesday. The group didn’t have the permits needed to have structures on the campus, Loftis said, and officers had discussed the rules with them and told them what would happen if they didn’t remove the tarpees.

“Not only do we allow people to demonstrate and express themselves, we support and defend that,” Loftis said. “We see that as an important part of the role of government, the responsibility of the State Patrol, to make sure people have the right to do that safely and thoughtfully.”

After sunset, he said it became clear the group planned to stay in the tarpees overnight.

Loftis said officers removed the tarpees by 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, and that they will return the tarpees to the group. He said one person was arrested on suspicion of assaulting an officer in the process, but there were no injuries.

“We were very much aware that these are symbolic artifacts with meaning beyond their structural role and structural integrity,” Loftis said. “We didn’t want to damage the artifacts in any way.”

After law enforcement left, Protectors of the Salish Sea member Brooke Hatch said people circled to pray and ended the night peacefully.

One member said about 20 people slept overnight in sleeping bags on the steps of the Capitol building and on the Capitol lawn.