Arts & Events

“Ancestral Waters 2022” chronicles Puyallup Tribe’s efforts to preserve way of life

The Port of Tacoma, where facilities such as Puget Sound Energy’s LNG plant are located Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Philcomanforterie used under CC BY-SA 4.0

By Sam Gerrish

Ten minutes from campus, sitting upon what used to be a thriving, biodiverse estuary, is the Port of Tacoma. From the North End, it’s easy to forget the port exists — at least, until you head down Union away from campus, hit 30th, and see the billowing clouds rising from the smokestacks that dot the port.

This sprawling industrial area is impossible to ignore for those who are closer to it. Puget Sound Energy’s liquified natural gas (LNG) facility is particularly concerning for members of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, whose reservation borders the port. Not only does the facility source fracked gas, a practice with significant negative environmental impact, but threat of explosion also poses a significant safety risk for the area.

The tribe’s fight was the focus of the 2022 documentary “Ancestral Waters 2022,” which was screened at 6:30 pm on March 6 in Rausch Auditorium, sponsored by the Department of English and the Native Indigenous Student Alliance. The screening was followed by a discussion with the filmmakers — Darren and Benita Moore — as well as a representative from the environmental organization 350 Tacoma, Stacy Oaks.

This 2022 release is the second iteration of “Ancestral Waters.” The film includes more recent developments in the struggle by the Puyallup Tribe to fight the construction and operation of the LNG plant. This construction is occurring despite Puget Sound Energy never having obtained the permits necessary to complete the facility. The film also provides historical context for the conflict, touching on events such as the signing of the Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854, which allocated tribal land to the United States in exchange for both the establishment of reservations and the recognition of traditional fishing and hunting rights for the Indigenous peoples of the Puget Sound area. The members of the Puyallup Tribe who are pushing back against the LNG plant emphasize that it impacts their ability to live according to their traditional ways — an ability that was supposed to be guaranteed under the Medicine Creek Treaty.

“Ancestral Waters 2022” features the voices of the Water Protectors and activists of the Puyallup Tribe working to combat the LNG plant. The activism the Puyallup Tribe’s members conduct takes many forms, from direct action — such as the blocking of a major roadway to prevent the construction of the LNG plant — to spiritual and legislative action. Their efforts have not been entirely in vain, but the fight is far from over. Victories, such as Tacoma city council’s decision to fly the flag of the Puyallup Tribe, or to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day as opposed to Columbus Day, are certainly important to acknowledge. But these are by no means a greater solution, and in some ways, appear more like acts of appeasement. Still, the fight continues. The Tribe’s legal appeal against Puget Sound Energy remains ongoing. Benita and Darren Moore hope that their film will raise awareness both within and outside Tacoma, and galvanize support for the movement.

Despite our proximity to the Port of Tacoma and Puyallup Reservation, this issue isn’t well-known by many members of our campus community. That’s what makes events like this one so important; they give members of our community a way out of the so-called campus bubble that they can, and should, take.