By Taylor McAvoy
WNPA Olympia News Bureau

Climate activists erected tents and teepees Monday (Jan. 8) in front of the Washington state Capitol building, on the opening day of the Legislature’s 60-day session.

“We are here today in prayer,” said Paul Che Oketen Wagner of the Saanich First Nation of Canada, a member of Protectors of the Salish Sea.

Wagner claims under the Medicine Creek treaty of 1854, the legislative grounds are native lands. He said the group hoped to occupy the space between the legislative building and the Washington State Supreme Court for the duration of the session.

The climate groups are demanding the government uphold treaty rights, stop the liquefied natural gas construction in Tacoma, and abolish open-pen fish farms that they say endanger native salmon and other fish.

Bill Layman, with Climate Conversations in north central Washington, called for a carbon tax, all-electric link transportation, and water-based renewable energy.

Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed a carbon tax this session.

“You don’t know about a person until you’ve walked around in their fins,” said founding member of Olympic Climate Action, Ed Chaad, who was dressed as an orca whale.

Chaad called on lawmakers to pass legislation protecting the Salish Sea from noise pollution and from risk of oil spills from increased tankers in the area.

Salish Sea protection

Senator Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, announced his proposal for a Salish Sea Protection package of legislation that would re-examine emergency response for oil spills, establish a permanent tug vessel response, increase enforcement on Orca Whale protection laws, and eliminate new leases on Atlantic salmon net pens.

In the Senate chambers, as newly elected lawmakers were sworn in, climate action group members chanted, “We have a climate crisis. We need to act now.”

Sen. Ranker disagreed with the activists’ action in the chambers as a new senator was being sworn in.

“They will defeat their own cause to disrupt the Senate like that,” he said, calling their actions disrespectful. “I feel bad for our senator and I feel bad for our cause. That is the sort of thing that will defeat a year’s worth of work in an instant.”

Paul Wagner and Protectors of the Salish Sea claimed they have a right to a say on the land.

Press calls were referred to the state Department of Enterprise Services. According to that agency, the activists set up the tents at 6 a.m. Officers negotiated with the group and agreed that they had until 5 p.m. to move the tent from capitol grounds. Activists refused.

A few individuals from the group stayed in one remaining tent overnight. Washington State Patrol and the Department of Enterprise Services were continuing conversations with activists on Tuesday in an effort to remove the tent.