Washington salmon lost one of their best advocates this week with the death of Lorraine Loomis. She was 81.
Loomis was a Swinomish tribal elder, chairperson of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and manager of fisheries for the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community.
Her leadership in fisheries management began after the 1974 decision by U.S. District Court Judge George Boldt that reaffirmed tribes’ treaty-protected fishing rights.
Loomis had been working as a fish processor, and figured fisheries management had to be easier than working 14 to 15 hours a day, seven days a week, an obituary by the Northwest Fisheries Commission noted.
She would go on to work ceaselessly in her fight for treaty fishing rights for all treaty tribes in Western Washington, a battle she continued for more than 40 years in her service on the fish commission. She became its chairperson in 2014, following the passing of Billy Frank Jr.
Washington state political leaders reflect
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., charged those who honor Loomis today with carrying on her legacy.
“Lorraine was a strong and passionate leader who spent decades fighting for the Swinomish, to protect treaty rights, and to preserve salmon populations for future generations,” Murray wrote in an email to The Seattle Times. “It’s now on all of us to continue her legacy. My heart goes out to the Swinomish Tribe and all who knew her.”
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., remembered Loomis for her decades of leadership for treaty rights and salmon.
“For more than four decades, Lorraine worked tirelessly to preserve the health of our environment and recover Pacific salmon populations Pacific Northwest tribes rely on,” Cantwell said in a prepared statement. ” … she was a leading light for tribes throughout the region, fostering cooperation and consensus, and raising up everyone around her to make sure future generations may fish.”
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee praised Loomis’ long leadership and gracious style.
“She was strong leader and tireless advocate for tribal treaty rights,” Inslee said in a statement. “As a tribal elder, community leader and friend to many, her gentle voice will echo loudly for future generations.
” … Washington is a little less bright without her.”
Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers — who used to work as a fisheries biologist for the Tulalip Tribes — praised Loomis for her lifelong dedication to the region’s signature species.
“For anyone who cares for our salmon, orca, and incredible quality of life in the Pacific Northwest, we have Lorraine Loomis to thank for decades of moral clarity and persistent leadership,” Somers wrote on Twitter.
“As a fisheries biologist I had the opportunity to work alongside Lorraine for many years and always felt her sense of profound urgency to save our natural heritage. Her legacy will live on.”
Decades of work
Loomis was educated at La Conner High School and Skagit Valley College.
In addition to her work for fisheries, Loomis also served as a member of the Swinomish Senate from 1985 to 2000, according to archives compiled by Swinomish tribal historian Theresa Trebon.
Loomis witnessed and participated in many key turning points in the history of her people, Trebon recounted, from the Boldt decision to the advent of tribal government gaming compacts with the state of Washington in 1991, and victory in the culvert case first in 2017 at 9th Circuit and in 2018 at the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision mandated repair of salmon-blocking highway culverts.
Loomis was a keen negotiator and led the North of Falcon salmon fisheries planning process for tribes, in co-management with the state of Washington. She also was involved in developing and implementing the U.S./Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty and served on the Fraser River Panel that manages sockeye and pink salmon.
She always kept preservation and restoration of habitat at the forefront in the fight to maintain and rebuild salmon runs.
Many leaders in Indian Country lamented her passing.
“We have been rocked by another tremendous loss,” Stillaguamish Chairman and NWIFC Vice Chair Shawn Yanity told the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. “Prayers for the family and all of us. Her powerful leadership, guidance, friendship and presence will be missed.”
“I can’t put in words how much I’m going to miss her spirit in my world,” said W. Ron Allen, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Chairman/CEO and NWIFC commissioner.
Loomis received many awards over her lifetime but perhaps the one that meant the most was the Billy Frank Jr. Leadership Award she received in October for her decades of work defending treaty fishing rights.
The award recognizes initiative, commitment and accomplishment in protecting tribal sovereignty and natural resources in Western Washington.
Loomis is survived by daughter Kim Murphy of Anacortes; sons John Grossglass and Jim Grossglass; her brothers Marvin Wilbur and Vince Wilbur,and former husband Ron Loomis, all of Swinomish,and numerous other nieces, nephews, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The funeral will be on Saturday beginning at 9 a.m. at the Swinomish Casino, 12885 Casino Drive, Anacortes, and is open to all.
The family requests that all flowers be delivered to Kern funeral home in Mount Vernon, 1122 S. Third St., Mount Vernon, WA 98273.