By Simon Thomas
Moments before dress rehearsal, while lights are being set up in the high ceilings of Syre Auditorium, the members of “What About Those Promises” gathered at the tables in front of the stage as they fine tune their traditional dress.
With the set-up crew yelling over each other and performers practicing their rolls, Darrell Hillaire, writer of the play and organizer of the event, sat with his aunt, uncle and cast members at a table amid the chaos.
Hillaire talked to the younger cast members about how to handle the handmade cedar baskets, and elder members of the cast reminded the younger members the importance and significance of the story they are telling. Hillaire said that in the Lummi community, oral tradition and passing cultural values to younger generations is paramount.
Hillaire’s play, “What About Those Promises,” tells the story of when Hillaire’s great-grandfather traveled to Mukilteo by canoe with other Lummi people to sign the Point Elliot Treaty of 1855 with the Washington Territory Government, guaranteeing them rights to land and money that the Lummi people did not receive.
The play includes a Lummi creation story told and performed in the Lummi language, as well as storytelling of how the tribe hunted and lived.
The week surrounding Bellingham’s Coast Salish Day, which is the second Monday of October, is a period of recognition for the Lummi people in the Whatcom community.
Two years ago the Bellingham City Council voted to change Columbus Day to Coast Salish Day. Bellingham followed the trend of many American cities in recognizing the people who lived in our region before foreign settlers came.
To help the Whatcom community celebrate the Lummi people, Director of Intercultural Affairs and Leadership, Betsy Hasegawa invited Hillaire to put theplay on at Whatcom Community College for the first time this year.
“It’s been at Bellingham High School, Silver Reef Casino, and then we went to Seattle University, and we had it at our community building.” said Hillaire. The play was performed in Syre Auditorium on Oct. 14 and Oct. 23 to a crowd of over 200, according to Hasegawa.
“It was a wonderful performance, we had a full house.” Hasegawa said.
While Whatcom students volunteered and got to be a part of the production, Hasegawa said the play being performed here was “an opportunity to get to know who our neighbors are, but also who were the original people here.” Hillaire said that this performance can help community members understand and appreciate the Lummi Nation for who they really are.
“They can do that through the use of the language. A number of our folks speak our language. They’ll get to appreciate song and dance, and learn and recognize the importance of keeping your word and how that’s supported by the United States Constitution.” said Hillaire.
Hillaire and Hasegawa said they are excited to see what they will do next for the community, and will be looking for future opportunities for Whatcom Community College and Lummi Nation to work together.
“We do a number of exchanges and engagements with the Northwest Indian College.” Betsy said. “The student executive board is going to come to Whatcom and teach us to play stick game.”
Hasegawa also said Whatcom will be more involved in more peacemaking circles and community building activities alongside Lummi Nation.