Gathering for the Salish Sea

Submitted by Community Rights San Juan Islands

Over a hundred community members on Lopez Island gathered, sang and danced in honor of the Salish Sea Saturday night, Sept. 15. Organized by Community Rights San Juan Islands, the event “Take Back the Salish Sea” at the Lopez Center was part of the cross-border Salish Sea Day of Action coordinated by Salish Sea advocacy groups. From Vancouver, British Columbia, to Gig Harbor, to Wenatchee, 17 communities in the United States and Canada were uniting voices to demand protection for the Salish Sea bioregion.

On Lopez, local musicians shared their talents on stage. The Lopez Cajun Band opened the night, followed by songs and drumming offered by Kevin Paul, a Swinomish tribal member and master carver. The A Capella group MamaTamba serenaded the crowd with beautiful harmony, and Los Hermanos closed the night with upbeat, Latin music.

A highlight of the evening was when a large choir sang “Tahlequahm” an original composition by Lopez resident Sorrel North, in honor of the mourning orca mother.

“Tahlequah carried her dead baby for 17 days and 17 nights. Her heartbreaking eloquence spoke like nothing else about our need to take care of the Salish Sea, our shared home,” said Kai Sanburn, founder of CRSJI.

On this day, many communities gathered to speak up on behalf of the Salish Sea. Events included an orca parade, a teach-in and, in Vancouver, British Columbia, a celebration of the decision that halted the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Down in Tacoma, the Puyallup tribe called people together at a small salt marsh, smack dab in the middle of the industrialized tide flats, stating, “Our goal is to radically love this one little acre of open public space back to health.’ Radical love, indeed.”

Sanburn gave a moving speech against the backdrop of quotes about human relationship with nature and picturesque images of the Salish Sea and its inhabitants. The slideshow of images and quotes rolled on through the night. Communities have spoken up to the many risks the region has faced: fish farm impacts on wild salmon, increasing shipping of fossil fuels, rapid development, pollution and the predatory nature of the growing whale watching industry.

“We see orca dying and know we’re in trouble. So we rally to say no to this pipeline or that coal port. But perhaps we need to speak for what we do want, what our well-being depends on — a healthy and thriving Salish Sea. Rights of Nature is a framework that allows us to do just that,” Sanburn said. “It suggests a different relationship to the natural world. It refutes the idea that nature is merely property, and recognizes the inherent right of natural entities to survive and thrive, and creates legal frameworks to support those rights.”

Founded in 2017, CRSJI is working to bring community rights and the rights of nature to San Juan County by way of an initiative that will codify honoring and putting the protection of the Salish Sea into law.

“The law will make us re-examine our relationship with nature, to see ourselves as part of nature and treating it as if we depend on it. As we do,” said Sanburn.

The group will hold an orientation meeting from 4:30–6 p.m. on Tuesday Oct. 9, at the Lopez Library for newcomers interested in learning more about the rights of nature and the activities of CRSJI. For more information, visit or on Facebook at Community Rights San Juan Islands, or contact Kai Sanburn at 360-468-4400.