Lummi Nation elder Henry Hillaire, 90, remembers the late Shirley Temple Black not as the the most famous child film star of the 1930s, or as a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Ghana and Czechoslovakia, or as Chief of Protocol of the United States, but as a woman who used her renown and her respect and compassion for others to help foster economic development on the reservation when she visited in the 1970s. Here are Hillaire’s memories of Black as told to an ICTMN correspondent, with some clarifying notes inserted in italics:
We had a lunch and we talked about the nature of things, the way Native Americans have been treated. She was a very nice lady and she told me all of her feelings about how she felt about people. She was [supportive of] anybody who was taken advantage of by people or the government. The government at that time was in the period when they want to do away with Indian reservations.
The Lummi had signed a treaty and we talked about that. [Under the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott, the tribes and bands in western Washington Territory who were signatories ceded their ancestral lands, with the exception of specified tracts reserved for their use and occupation. The treaty granted the tribes non-exclusive rights to fish “at usual and accustomed grounds and stations” and to hunt and gather on open and unclaimed lands.] After we signed the treaty the government took half of that land back [to sell to non-Indians under the allotment policy. By the end of the 1950s, the Lummi had lost 40 percent of their reservation].
They gave the highlands on our reservation away, then the reservation was all river bottom. The Government created a little peninsula of land on the river bottom; they guided the river to the north and shut that off and guided the river to the south and left us on a little peninsula, the only place where we could live.
The land became more and more unusable—it was a wetland. That was what was left for us to make a living on. The land we tried to use it at first for planting corn and oats, but the source of our survival was the sea, the tidelands. [However, Washington state and local governments had been unrelenting in separating the Lummi from the sea and the exercise of the fishing rights guaranteed to them in the Treaty of Point Elliott.]
We were trying to create some economic development in the Lummi Tribe. We had nothing here. So we decided to exploit the tideland, which was just sitting there. All we had to do was create a pond. We were going for a 7-acre pond in the tidelands and raising clams and oysters and whatever else we could raise.
People opposed it. I think they would have opposed anything that Native Americans were doing here in the community.
Miss Black, Shirley Temple Black, heard about our plight, so she and Marlon Brando got here and voiced their opinions to the public that they supported us. She let people know she was supporting the Lummi tribe and the efforts they were taking to raise shellfish. And we built a farm, a hatchery, clam hatchery and oyster hatchery; the thing’s still surviving.
I feel so bad that I didn’t have more contact with her the time she was here. I was so damned busy I couldn’t. I wasn’t regulated by the clock; I was regulated by the tide. I was selected to be project manager and I had the soil, wherever we were going to get the soil. We had trucks and loaders and bulldozers. When the tides went out we start building. When they came in we had to make sure we were ahead of them and then wait for the next time.
I thought she was a wonderful, wonderful person, just as I would classify citizens around here that I would call my friends, that treated me as a human being. You couldn’t help loving her the way she presented herself. She didn’t support just Native Americans, but they were her favorites, because of the way we’d been treated through history. That was what she was doing in her life, supporting people that are taken advantage of or that are not offered any help.