Since Time Immemorial is a recurring series featuring community members whose families have been here since time immemorial. The ancestral knowledge carried by Lhaq’temish, Nooksack, and other Coast Salish peoples is knowledge about how to live in our shared home in a good, life-sustaining way. We live in a time when we need to restore our relationship with Mother Earth and with one another. We are grateful for these stories, told in the words of each featured individual.
Sul ka dub Freddie Lane is an enrolled member of Lummi Nation. He organizes the annual Gathering of the Eagles canoe journey throughout the San Juan Islands each May long weekend. A speaker, activist, and event organizer, Freddie is also part of the totem pole journeys undertaken by House of Tears carvers.
How do you like to introduce yourself?
Photograph by Cocoa Laney
Most people know me as Freddie Lane. My Indian name is Sul ka dub, I got it in January 1999. My Indian name comes from Upper Skagit on my mom’s side. My mom’s mom was full blooded, Upper Skagit. My grandpa Felix was Lummi. Theirs was an arranged marriage. Sul ka dub was my grandma Dora Williams’s uncle. And so that’s where my name comes from. It doesn’t have any particular meaning. It’s like, Julie, it’s like Fred, it doesn’t really translate. It’s a name. And so a lot of our Indian names, you know, they’ve been passed down for thousands of years, just like our stories.
You’ve been a journalist, the editor of the Squol Quol, you’ve organized Stommish and Canoe Journeys, you’ve worked to get out the Native vote, you’ve sat on tribal council, you’ve been a photographer and a filmmaker. Do you see a thread that ties all these together?
I love being part of a campaign. I love strategy. It doesn’t have to be an actual war, but there’s a fight. There are things we need to protect. Sacred sites, clean air, clean water, all our relations. Qwe’lhol’mechen (killer whales), salmon, we need to be a voice for those who can’t speak. How can you win a battle that, you know, is against governments or big corporations? It’s through the public sphere. It’s through sharing stories to get the people aware, and protecting what they love.
Where do you think that comes from, that drive?
You know, there’s a picture of me, over there on the wall. In it, I’m wearing red paint. Some people really don’t like it. My partner Diron asked me what I thought of the picture. I said, I love it. It’s me on the front lines. As a two-spirited, you know, that was traditionally our work, what we were chosen to do and raised up to do. Two-spirits had no husband or wife, no children, so it was their sacred duty to stand in front of the warriors, to be ready to sacrifice. I don’t have children. I feel like my place is on the front lines.
So, it sounds like campaigns are where the warrior and the storyteller in you meet. What’s the most recent campaign?
I’ve been traveling with Se Sealth Jewell James and Sit ki Kadem Doug James and House of Tears carvers on totem pole journeys for years now. The journeys are about bringing peace and healing and awareness. We did one for Lolita the killer whale, we did one to protect Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point), we did one to free the Snake River from the dams that are killing our salmon and starving our orca relatives. This last one was for Leonard Peltier, who’s been in prison since 1977 even though he was eligible for parole in 1993. He fought against racism and police brutality, and then was convicted of murder in a trial that was pretty controversial, pretty suspect. Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama have all called for his clemency.
This past September a large, peaceful rally was held in front of the White House to ask President Biden to finally grant clemency to Peltier. You were there with the totem pole. What was it like?
Since 2021, these journeys have felt more spiritual than anything. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s like seeing a bumper sticker that says, “Good Happens.” Like with this journey, we struggled with funding, but the Spirit always provided. Somebody always took care of us. Every place that we stopped, people took care of us. We journeyed all the way to Washington, D.C. to be part of the demonstration, we had the totem on a trailer, and there was no place to park it. Things weren’t working out. We were trying to get to the White House for the action, I happened to make a mistake and I forgot to tell Doug where to take the exit. We didn’t take the exit, we didn’t know where we were or where we were going and then all of a sudden the President’s motorcade went by right in front of us. So we were honking at the President saying, “Hi, look at our totem pole.”
Is there a teaching or a saying that you hold close to your heart, that gets you through?
I have a pin that says, “Question Authority.” I believe that. Somebody always has to question the King. Make sure that ego and power are not getting in the way of the good. And this: Walk knowing that all your ancestors are behind you. Every one of us has ancestors. Know who you are, where you come from, know your family, know your heritage, where your name comes from. My name is Sul ka dub. Like all my Lhaq’temish relations, I’m Che Shesh Whe Wheleq, a survivor of the great flood. One last thing. Always speak with dignity, joy, and purpose. Hy’shqe, Sul ka dub.
Julie Trimingham is grateful to make her home on traditional Lhaq’temish territory, and to work for the Sacred Lands Conservancy, an Indigenous-led 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the life, culture, and sanctity of the Salish Sea. Learn more at sacredsea.org.