Remembering Lorraine Loomis, a Tribal Treaty Rights Champion

Loomis, Who Died Aug. 10, Was Influential In Protecting Tribal Treaty Rights And Salmon Recovery Efforts

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Lorraine Loomis, the chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC) and the Swinomish fisheries manager, died Aug. 10 at the age of 81.

Loomis became the fisheries manager for the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community following the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit's Boldt decision in 1974, which reaffirmed treaty-protected fishing rights for the tribes within state borders.

Mike Grayum, the former executive director of NWIFC, said he worked with her for more than 40 years and watched her work hand-in-hand with late tribal treaty-rights activist Billy Frank Jr. on the interests of NWIFC stakeholders.

“I worked with both her and Billy Frank closely, on almost a daily basis, providing staff support for them and, depending on the issue, with Lorraine a lot,” Grayum said, adding that while Frank was the chair of the NWIFC, she was his vice chair until she assumed his position following his death in 2014.

“The chair ... of a commission of 20 tribes, which is the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, has a usual responsibility of running the meetings and being a spokesperson and that sort of thing, but her role was much bigger than that,” Grayum said. “She was Billy Frank’s partner, providing the leadership directed at preserving and recovering salmon and protecting the treaty rights.”

In particular, he said Loomis took on the responsibility of providing leadership in the fisheries co-management process with the state of Washington and the federal government.

In the co-management process, Loomis worked with the state and federal government to balance their interests with the tribes’ treaty-protected rights to harvest salmon, recover their numbers and restore their habitat, Grayum said.

He described her as a wonderful person, who was “larger than life” and did a lot for everyone who surrounded her.

“She was a strong warrior, a leader,” he said. “She knew how to negotiate a deal with state and federal officials. She was a strong warrior, very focused, but at the same time, she had a great sense of humor and those of us who worked with her became quite close to her family.”

Phil Anderson, the former director of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, said he worked on co-management with Loomis through a variety of organizations. His relationship with Loomis dates back to the early 1980s, Anderson said, explaining he represented a trade organization of charter boats that worked with Loomis before their co-management efforts between the state and the tribes.

“Lorraine and I became good friends, and then when I went to work for the Department of Fish and Wildlife in 1994, one of my primary responsibilities was working with the Indian tribes in Washington,” Anderson said. “We forged a friendship and a working relationship that spanned 40 years.”

He said they sat side-by-side in countless meetings between the state and the tribes in efforts of co-management between 1995 and 2015.

“She was the leader and spokesperson for the tribes, and I was her counterpart in the state,”  Anderson said. “I was very fortunate to be in a position where I got to work with such an extraordinary … person. It’s not so much what I’m proud of, it’s just that I was fortunate enough to work side-by-side with such an extraordinary leader. Together, we were able to hold the state and the tribes together over a 20-year period, because we both understood the value of co-management and the value of the tribes and the state working together.”

He said the relationship between the tribes and the state would have fallen apart any number of times if the two of them hadn’t put collaboration at the top of their priorities.

“Because of our dedication to those principles, we, working together, were able to forge a strong co-management relationship between the tribes and the state,” Anderson said.

About the time Anderson’s working relationship with Loomis ended in about 2016, the state and the tribes reached a “stalemate” in their co-management efforts, said Justin Parker, current NWIFC executive director.

“She kind of took co-management to a different level after 2016, when the tribes and state were at loggerheads, trying to wrap up the fisheries management plan for the upcoming 2016-17 year,” Parker said. “We were at just kind of a stalemate and nobody wants to go through that again. … I think, for Lorraine, that was a turning point, if you will.”

Persevering through the strained relationship, he said Loomis was at the helm when the state and the tribes had to agree to disagree, making treaty rights — as well as salmon recovery and habitat restoration — paramount to her efforts in building and restoring relationships with the state and various stakeholders.

And Parker said Loomis’ absence will not go unnoticed.

“I have this lasting image of her in my mind,” he said. “She just had this great smile. Her eyes would kind of just disappear when she’d start laughing hard. I’ll always envision that laugh and the smile that she had. There’s nothing better. As long and hard as she worked and as many hours as she put in, I know she was always willing to have a light moment, too.”

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