Bill Tsi’li’xw James, hereditary chief of the Lummi people, was a teacher of culture, language and art who passed on teachings until his last breath.
Sharp in his mind until his passing June 1 at age 75 from a hereditary liver disease, Chief James was stood up as hereditary chief of the Lummi People in 2010, a role for which he was selected and groomed by the heads of Lummi families as a young man. He grew into a formidable spokesman for his people on the front lines of some of the most important fights of a generation, including a successful campaign in 2016 with tribes and their allies to block construction of the largest coal port in North America at Cherry Point.
He brought his people’s culture and way of life to the fight to save the southern resident orca whales from extinction, explaining to an uninitiated public that the orcas are not just black-and-white wildlife, but relatives of the Lummi people. He similarly fought for salmon and the Salish Sea and to protect the ancestors at the ancient village at Cherry Point, not just in everyday terms of land use, but sovereignty.