OLYMPIA — The day ended in two arrests for the Protectors of the Salish Sea, a climate activist group headed by indigenous leaders.
The group set up two tipi-like structures, called “tarpees,” on the north steps of the State Capitol building at 5 a.m. Tuesday. On top of each of the 16-foot structures sat two demonstrators.
The group was demanding that Gov. Jay Inslee draft a climate emergency resolution, and extend the legislative session to pass more drastic measures on climate change.
“He could do it in his sleep,” said Paul Chiyokten Wagner, Saanich tribal member and founder of the Protectors of the Salish Sea. “He claims to be a climate hero.”
The group held a similar demonstration in September, when the State Patrol forced the activists to disassemble the structures.
This time around, the group didn’t budge, and at about 3 p.m., State Patrol officers forced the group, which didn’t have a permit to demonstrate, off the steps. At least 10 troopers fitted in riot gear proceeded to use power tools to disassemble the structures, while two activists sat precariously on top.
Much of the scene was blocked from view, as troopers placed a cloth barrier between the power tools and the public.
“We are standing for their children’s future, and grandchildren’s future in Inslee’s case,” Wagner said, pointing to climate disasters around the world, including Australia’s raging bush fires.
Washington State Patrol spokesperson Chris Loftis confirmed that the two people atop the structures were arrested at the scene on trespassing charges. Loftis said a tribal liaison was sent to the scene around 9 a.m. to get information about sacred items that troopers should be sensitive of, and the structures were dismantled with “as little damage as humanly possible.”
“Those are living beings,” Wagner said, gesturing to the tarpees, which the group prayed in before the arrival of the State Patrol.
As power tools whirred atop the steps, Wagner argued that the troopers were in violation of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act by destroying the structures.
“Those guys are breaking their own laws,” Wagner said.
Loftis said there was “no direct threat” posed by the group, but that the troopers in riot gear were dispatched out of “an abundance of caution.”
Loftis said the structures will be returned to the group.
After the arrests, the Protectors of the Salish Sea held a ceremony over the sawdust that was left by State Patrol, honoring the life of the structures. A young Protector used sage to cleans the remains of the structures, and Wagner showed the group of about 50 how to clap along to an “honor song.”
It’s sad, Wagner said, when you see your loved ones only during funerals, “but that’s what colonialism does to us.”