SEQUIM — Kurt Frederick Grinnell, his memory honored last week with an American flag lowered in mourning over the U.S. Capitol, was remembered Saturday by hundreds as a tribal bridge builder and peacemaker at a live-streamed public service on Jamestown Beach.
The 57-year-old longtime Jamestown S’Klallam tribal council member and tribal fishing and treaty rights advocate died the afternoon of April 20 in a car wreck off Mount Pleasant Road, east of Port Angeles, about a mile from his home.
In life as in death, Grinnell brought Pacific Northwest tribes together.
One after another, members and tribal council officials including representatives of the Jamestown S’Klallam, Elwha Klallam, Port Gamble S’Kllallam and Lummi tribes heralded him as an example of ready friendship, forward-looking vision where the tribe’s interests are concerned and calmness at times of tension among disparate factions.
“I feel like as soon as we met, we became friends,’ said Jeromy Sullivan, chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe.
Those in attendance included dignitaries from the Yakama Nation, and the Cowlitz and Cour d’Alene tribes, said Leonard Forsman, Chairman of the Suquamish Tribe and president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, which is comprised of 57 tribes from three states and parts of Alaska, Montana and California.
“He worked on making that organization a good thing,” Forsman said.
The master of ceremonies, Makah tribal member Justin Parker, who is executive director of the Northwest Indian Fisheries commission, lauded Sequim Kingsway Foursquare Church Pastor Mike VanProyen’s description of Grinnell as a peacemaker during VanProyen’s opening prayer.
“Even if you disagreed with him, he could agree to disagree and do it in the most professional and polite way, and you’d at least know the facts, you’d know where he’s coming from, you’d know his point of view and why he landed on that decision,” Parker said.
Those in attendance included U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, whose 6th Congressional District includes Clallam and Jefferson counties.
Kilmer had the U.S. flag lowered Wednesday over the Capitol in Grinnell’s honor and presented it to the several Grinnell family members gathered in the front seats of a tent bursting with hundreds of friends and tribal members and watched online by 300 more participants.
Kilmer recalled two members of Congress who travelled with him to John Wayne Marina to discuss what it meant to fight for clean water, salmon recovery and treaty rights, asking Grinnell, whom he described as an oracle, to make the case.
Kilmer’s Republican House counterpart asked why those issues were not the responsibility of the federal government.
“Kurt looked at this as a teachable moment, and in a very kind and measured tone, he put his arm around my Midwestern colleague and explained what a treaty right was,” Kilmer said to laughter.
Jamestown Tribal Chairman and CEO Ron Allen, a nationally known Indian Country leader whose efforts were key to Jamestown tribal recognition, was among many wearing traditional graceful Salish cedar hats.
The former president of the National Congress of American Indians recalled the good-cop, bad-cop images he and Grinnell presented at intertribal meetings, and how Grinnell made it obvious who was who.
“That’s why everybody loved Kurt,” he said, adding he considered Grinnell — Allen’s junior — his mentor.
“I don’t know anyone who ever saw him angry,” Allen said, echoing many of the more than dozen who spoke during the four-hour event.
Allen recalled how Grinnell, CEO of Jamestown Seafood and, like other members of his family, a lifelong fisherman, grew not only in knowledge and forward-thinking vision about aquaculture, which he would impart to others, including Allen, but also as a tribal council member. Grinnell had served on the council since 2004.
Grinnell emphasized tribal sustainability through development of shellfish farming and aquaculture as a matter of pride and tradition, Allen said.
“Jamestown Seafood is going to march forward in his memory,” Allen vowed.
“It’s going to be successful just like his vision.”
Before turning and being draped in a decorative gift blanket, a thanks bestowed on each of several featured speakers, Allen faced the array of flowers and photos on the speakers’ stand.
“Nobody is going to miss you more than me,” Allen said, choking up for a second time during his presentation.
Sullivan echoed others in saying Grinnell was a family man who put his family first and others at ease by asking how they and their own families were doing.
Like many other speakers, Sullivan introduced himself with a native language greeting.
“Getting tribal leaders to even agree on a date is really difficult. Then, when we get there, to find common ground is usually very difficult. But if Kurt was in the room, he was trying to find answers.”
In the area of natural resources, “Kurt was the guy” to break down barriers, Sullivan added.
He recalled the Hood Canal Shrimp Agreement, which came down to the last week before a pact would have been unreachable.
“Without Kurt’s assistance and persistence in getting us together, we may have had a raised fishery in the Hood Canal,” he said.
“That last week Kurt called us and said we need to have one more shot at this,” Sullivan said.
“That agreement was derived from Kurt bringing us all together. I just appreciate that, and I recognize it, and I want to do what he did. I want to continue that opportunity for the tribes to get together and find solutions even when we disagree.”
Lower Elwha Klallam Tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles also saw Grinnell as an example of trying to make things work, no matter the discord keeping parties apart.
“He would provide advice and suggest solutions to guide you through those rough times with that smile on his face,” she said.
“He would say, if we stuck together, we were strong,” Charles said, calling him a “great warrior” focused on mediating disputes.
“Kurt will always be there to give the guidance to the tribes.”
Grinnell was a great grandson of S’Klallam Chief Chetzemoka, a signer of the landmark 1855 Point No Point Treaty who lived in the Port Townsend area, where a bluff-top city park bears his name.
Jefferson County Commissioner Kate Dean said Grinnell embodied Jamestown S’Klallam traditions.
“I was always honored to be in his presence,” she said
“Jefferson County is really proud to be part of the ancestral homelands of the Klallam people,” Dean added.
She said the city and port of Port Townsend, and Jefferson County want to work with the Grinnell family to find a location to place a memorial to Grinnell in Qatay, in Port Townsend, the overall site where the S’Klallam village was located.
In his opening comments, VanProyen noted a man dying at 57 years old prompts the question why.
“Accidents happen, and good people die, and a good man died in an accident, and sometimes, on this side of heaven,” VanProyen said.
“That’s the only answer we’ll get.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].