Forum warns of rebirth of white supremacism in county
Aisha Misbah photo
Jennifer Bereskin-SeaMonster and Čəlalakəm SeaMonster (in hat) address the audience of the anti-hate forum Thursday, Oct. 26 at the Everett Civic Auditorium. Forum host Kevin Henry stands behind at the podium.
EVERETT — On Thursday, Oct. 26, the groups Communities Against Hate (CAHVE) and Unidos of Snohomish County co-sponsored an educational forum to address hate and extremism.
Washington ranked fifth in the country for white supremacy activity and incidents, and Snohomish County ranked number one in incidents within the state in 2021, according to monitoring data by the Anti-Defamation League.
Thursday’s forum, titled “White Christian Nationalism or Cultural Diversity: How America’s cultural wars are rooted in an authoritarian war on democracy itself,” featured David Neiwert, a renowned author and award-winning journalist who has reported on extremist groups for 50 years. Panelists included Jennifer Bereskin-SeaMonster, Michael Adams and Juan Peralez, the President of Unidos.
The forum at the Everett Civic Auditorium began with Čəlalákəm SeaMonster, the Vice Chair of the Snohomish Tribe of Indians, initiating a welcome ceremony reminding participants of the land they were occupying: the indigenous peoples of Washington.
“I’d like to welcome you here,” SeaMonster said. “Welcome you into the sduhubš (Snohomish) tribal territory. This county was named after the First People of this land, and that is who I am from. We come tonight to say you’re welcome to be here; we are glad to host you.”
SeaMonster then told the audience to remember the word ‘yehow’ tonight, meaning ‘to push forward, together’ from the Lushootseed language. If there is anything to be accomplished in this world, she said, people need to learn how to yehow.
The Tulalip, Snohomish, Stillaguamish, Skykomish, and Sauk-Suiattle tribes were all acknowledged as peoples in Snohomish County before the land was “stolen,” said Rev. Paul Benz, under the legal and Christian religious justification of Manifest Destiny in the 19th century. He is a retired director of the Faith Action Network.
Neiwert gave an extensive and intricate history of white supremacy in the Pacific Northwest and the West. Just 100 years ago, white supremacy was the dominant worldview.
The Pacific Northwest played a crucial role in promoting white supremacy as mainstream into the 1920s. The Seattle Star newspaper, for example, published an article in 1919 titled “Is this to remain white man’s land?” as a response to the Japanese immigration into the region.
The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was a mainstream group in the ‘20s with frequent gatherings. There were even KKK floats in Ferndale’s Fourth of July parades.
White supremacy became less mainstream after World War II because many people saw exactly what that idea could do: the Holocaust. However, it remained on the fringes and still cost lives and oppression.
Before 2007, many white supremacist groups did ‘border patrolling’ to stop people from crossing into the United States. However, with the election of Barack Obama, many of these groups became full-fledged militias. In 2007, there were about 137 militia groups in the U.S., but by 2011, there were 1,100. Members participating skyrocketed. These numbers grew even more with the election of President Donald Trump in 2016.
White supremacist groups such as Patriot Prayer, Proud Boys, American Guard, and Rise Above Movement (some with PNW and Washington state origins) were smattered with neo-Nazis. They had many street demonstrations that resulted in violence which eventually led to the August 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia “Unite the Right” rally that ended in a lot of violence.
During the panel, Bereskin-SeaMonster, a human rights leader and member of CAHVE, and Michael Adams, the executive director of Change the Narrative, shared their thoughts on current events, using their experiences to educate on the extremism that takes place every day in Snohomish County.
Bereskin-SeaMonster spoke about her experiences of being an Indigenous woman in Snohomish County.
Bereskin-SeaMonster said that it is a difficult feat to be up there speaking to the audience because, as an Indigenous woman, she can go missing or be murdered and very likely never be found. She encourages the audience to dig into the complex issues and do it together, even if mistakes are made on the way, because there are things to be learned from them, too.
She told the audience that every one of them has the ability to change, despite who their ancestors are.
“I encourage you, though, to learn about your ancestors,” Bereskin-SeaMonster said. “Learn about your cultural identity and connections. When I look at America, their cultural identity has been built upon the killing of our Indigenous people, the reaping of our lands, the enslavement of the people in the Black community, and the labor abuse of our immigrant community. We have a lot to atone for.”
Michael Adams is a former corrections officer who acknowledges the harmful inequities of the criminal legal system.
Adams recounted that since he moved to Snohomish County, he has been called the n-word and experienced hatred more in the past few years than his entire childhood growing up in Eastern Washington.
“White supremacy focuses on stripping us down by our color and taking our culture away,” Adams said. “Wanting to take our taste, our language, our history.”
Adams said white supremacy causes division, so people need to support and listen to each other to combat it.
Or as SeaMonster would say, we need to yehow.
You can watch a recording of the forum on the Unidos Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/UNIDOSSnohomishCounty/
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