SALLY BROWNFIELD is a soft-spoken, strong Puget Sound woman. For all but two of her 60-plus years, her home has been a little peninsula between two narrow inlets at the southern end of the Sound.
Brownfield is one of the People of the Water, the Squaxin Island Tribe that has lived on and with the water and its plants and animals for thousands of years. Daughter, wife, mother, educator, food gatherer, weaver, salmon fisher, oyster shucker, archaeological digger — her story is rich with experiences.
As a little girl, she spent many of her days combing the beaches of Little Skookum Inlet, Eld Inlet and Oyster Bay, where creeks spill into Puget Sound under the bridges of U.S. 101, the Pacific Coast Highway.
“The bay was part of our growing up, our childhood,” she recalls. “We learned from it and respected it.”
She and her family would be on the shore when the smelt came in, so all could be part of the life-sustaining harvest.
As Brownfield describes the changes she has witnessed in a generation or two, she observes, “In recent years, we have regained a lot of hope, because more people have recognized that what we humans do has a huge impact on the environment, on our life. Not just our livelihood, but our quality of life and being able to breathe clean air and have clean water.”