Remembering Lummi hereditary chief Bill James

The hereditary chief of the Lummi People Bill Tsi’li’xw James died on June 1 of hereditary liver disease. He was 75.

“He was a teacher of all and a strong voice for the Lummi Nation,” San Juan County Councilmember Jamie Stephens said during a June 9 meeting. “He worked simultaneously to protect the rights of the natural world while extending his ancestral knowledge to young people. His legacy will live on for generations.”

Chief James was born Oct. 20, 1944, in Bellingham, according to an article by Rosette Royale for History Link.

According to a June 6 Seattle Times article by Lynda Mapes about his death, Chief James became hereditary chief of the Lummi Nation in 2015 — a role for which he was selected and groomed since childhood. Makes noted he was on the front lines of many important fights including the blocking of construction of the largest coal port in North America at Cherry Point. He also fought for the salmon and orca of the Salish Sea, Mapes wrote.

“Definitely an incredible loss for this region, for the Lummi nation and for our community and for our state,” Councilmember Rick Hughes said at the meeting.

To read a biography of Chief James’ life, visit

To read Mapes’ eulogy of Chief James in the Seattle Times, visit

Gov. Jay Inslee released the following statement regarding Chief James:

“Trudi and I join Bill’s family, the Lummi community and all Coast Salish nations in mourning the loss of Chief Tsi’li’xw (Bill James). Bill was a teacher of all and was a gentle, yet strong voice for the Lummi people. He holds a place alongside other transformative tribal leaders that preceded him in death such as Billy Frank Jr., Stan Jones Sr. and many others.

“Bill helped young people in tribal communities to have a deeper connection to their ancestry and their cultures. He raised awareness of native art and language and his legacy will live on for generations.”