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The Big Water Agreement – An interview with Marie Zackuse

Today, we consider the City of Everett a partner and together we will plan for the future of our people and improve the health of our environment together for our people, our salmon, and our future.

Rebecca Wolfe, a member of Carpe Diem West’s Healthy Headwaters Leadership Team and a long-time resident of Edmonds, Washington, spoke with Marie Zackuse, Chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribe about the completion of Tulalip Water Project Pipeline, affectionately called “Big Water” and its significance.

She notes: Prior to meeting with Chairwoman Marie Zackuse of the Tulalip Tribes, I had met with Everett City Public Works Director and Chief Engineer, Jim Miller, in July of 2017. Miller provided background information about the City of Everett’s extensive water system and water history of the region.

Representing the City, Miller was instrumental in helping to establish early discussions about working together to resolve the longstanding difficulties between the Tulalips and the City over water issues.  The natural resources of the Tulalips and their sovereign rights were challenged throughout much of the twentieth century, leading to losses to their fisheries and the Tulalip reservation itself. 

After fifteen years of good faith discussions and negotiations, the City of Everett, Washington signed a settlement agreement with the Tulalip Tribes – the “Big Water Agreement” – in September 2005.  They gathered on April 28, 2017 to celebrate the completion of the eight segments of the 7.5-mile, large-diameter pipeline that will now provide 30 million gallons of potable water daily for at least 100 years.  The Tulalips’ commitment to the “seven generations” principle was central to the agreement.


What was life like before the finalizing of the “Big Water Agreement”?

Our ancestors knew that our survival as a people depended on the natural resources of our land and waters.  In negotiating the Point Elliot Treaty they ensured that access to salmon was among the rights we reserved.  We call ourselves the “People of the Salmon.”  By preserving this precious resource, we are defending our life ways, our culture, and our identity. If we cannot provide clean, freshwater spawning habitat, there will be no salmon.  Our past leaders had a vision that this tribe would build its own infrastructure on our Reservation.  In the case of Big Water, this vision and dream intersected with our commitment to our salmon.  Project management and implementation have been coordinated by departments from across tribal government and Quil Ceda Village, including economic development, planning, public works, utilities, TERO (Tribal Employment Rights Office), the Reservation Attorney, and more. We have grown our capacity to take the lead and deliver on big construction and infrastructure projects.  This helps the tribal and regional economy and grows our tribal workforce.  It is the best expression of our sovereignty and self-governance.  I want to thank our past leaders for their commitment to a vision of self-determination and strong sovereignty; to build our own infrastructure, to fight for our salmon, to build a strong tribal economy, and provide services and opportunity for our people. Water is sacred to our people.

What were the key factors in reaching an acceptable agreement?

It took years of planning, and years more to build the pipeline, which now carries water from Spada Lake to Tulalip.  It will enhance our salmon recovery efforts, habitat restoration, and will provide a source of fresh water for our people now and into the future.  It is a positive and historic accomplishment.  The Tulalip Tribes and the City of Everett share an interest in many of the same lands and waterways.  The two governments, prior to 2003, had a relationship that was often characterized by tension and conflict.  For us, much of that conflict was about the fact that the Sultan River Dam had made miles of the Upper Sultan River inaccessible to spawning fish, resulting in a massive fish population decline.  In 2003, we agreed to begin working together.  We formed a Government Alliance.  Stan Jones, and former Chairman Herman Williams Jr., with the support of the Board of Directors, began to collaborate with the City of Everett.  Sitting down with interim Mayor Frank Anderson, and then later with Mayor Ray Stephanson, who had the support of the City Council, was the beginning of a new era.  This willingness to sit down and listen to each other, and to collaborate, has led to a better future for both communities.  Today, we consider the City of Everett a partner and together we will plan for the future of our people and improve the health of our environment together.  In 2016, the Snohomish County PUD created fish passage around the old City diversion dam.  Five miles of spawning habitat are once again available to salmon.  We have already seen Coho and Steelhead in the area above the dam, and anticipate the return of Chinook.   On the Reservation, the Tulalip pipeline will provide 30 million gallons of water per day for the next 100 years.  Our precious aquifer, which was once used to supply homes and businesses, will be able to supply the Tulalip Hatchery instead.  The completion of Big Water means Tulalip now has enough water for our people, our salmon, and our future.

What are other likely benefits of the agreement?

The Tulalip Water Pipeline has helped to create jobs and opportunities for small tribal businesses in the trades and workers.  It has helped grow business opportunities and the tribal workforce.  We have had several tribal contractors work on this project and we want to thank them for their good work.  Tribal members with construction, hauling, and gravel companies were able to grow their experience base and businesses.  Tribal contractors account for the majority of contractors on this project.  This alone is a historic fact.  We implemented the installation of this pipeline over seven segments.  This allowed for a majority of tribal contractors.  They in turn, hired a majority of tribal workers, who have had the opportunity to learn and contribute to a project of great importance to our community. We want to thank our Tribal Employment Rights Office for helping to provide coordination and compliance.  It is healing and life-giving and we understand the responsibilities given to us from the Creator to care for these resources and the needs of future generations.  The completion of this water pipeline is an historic event.  We have secured water for our people and our way of life for the next hundred years.

Marie Zackuse is the Chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribe’s Board of Directors.  Councilwoman Zackuse is the current and first elected Chairwoman of the Board and has served on the Tulalip Board of Directors since April 1990. Marie is a delegate to the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, a member of the Indian Education Committee, and is chairwoman of the Pharmacy Board, as appointed by the Board of Directors. She is actively involved in the Early Learning Advisory Council, established by the Washington State Legislature. Her accomplishments include signing of a memorandum of agreement that encourages WSSDA to develop a curriculum that includes tribal experiences, to work on narrowing the achievement gap, and to increase understanding of tribal history, culture and government.

Photo Credit: Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

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