On Feb. 10, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s Medication Assisted Therapy clinic in Sequim, Washington, won in court with a ruling against clinic opponents. The court found the opponents had no standing in a suit to stop the clinic. This might sound like a simple zoning and land use squabble in a small rural town. In actuality, much more is at stake. Reactionary organizers have pitted themselves against a sovereign Native tribe attempting to provide direly needed healthcare to a community suffering from addiction.
Clallam County has been ravaged by the opioid crisis. The scale of the problem is on par with some of the most harshly affected areas of West Virginia. This issue is one that has hit the Indigenous communities of Washington particularly hard. Washington Natives die from opioids and heroin at three-to-four times the rate of non-Natives. As a response, in 2019 the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe purchased a roughly 60-acre plot of land in Sequim for the purpose of constructing a Medication Assisted Therapy clinic.
The MAT clinic project, in addition to having a highly effective addiction treatment, seeks to incorporate Indigenous practices and culture into treatment along with services such as dental care, job training, counseling, and family support services. The tribe’s goal is to set a new precedent for the way our society deals with the problem of addiction. Tribe chairperson Ron Allen has said, “Indians can be part of the solution” to the opioid crisis. On another occasion, Allen expressed the tribe’s aspirations, declaring, “We will become the Northwest Mayo Clinic with respect to this opioid challenge.” (Washington Post)
Opposing this bold vision to address the addiction epidemic has been a “not in my backyard” movement: SOS, or Save Our Sequim. SOS has links to the local Republican Party, to Sequim’s Mayor William Armacost, and to members of City Council. As has been covered in national news, Armacost is open in his support of QAnon conspiracy theories.
When the MAT clinic’s construction was first announced in 2019, SOS’s official qualm with the project was that it would be located too close to the town’s businesses. SOS members then quickly began to speculate about addicts being bused in, and businesses suffering. They even went so far as to say that the clinic would attract human traffickers. The initial attempt by the S’Klallam tribe to alleviate these anxieties by holding a public forum did little to de-escalate the situation.
Since the conflicts over the MAT clinic first emerged, the complaints have changed from being about the clinic’s location, to its necessity, to its efficacy, and finally to its environmental impact. Every step of the way, SOS has done its best to stymie the S’Klallam Tribe with barely masked racist rhetoric and outlandish claims about the potential impact of a small clinic which will serve a maximum of 25 patients upon opening.
Some opponents have speculated that the tribe has the ulterior motive of profiting off this new clinic. This only makes sense to those who ignore reality and instead buy into racist stereotypes. Earlier this year, while the federal government was criminally mishandling the COVID-19 vaccine distribution, in contrast the S’Klallam organized and executed a massive drive-through vaccine distribution program for the community’s sizable elderly population — free of charge, of course.
Finally, on Feb. 10, SOS seems to have exhausted its last legal form of recourse, as a decision was handed down by Judge Brent Basden that SOS has no standing to file a claim under the Land Use Petition Act against the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.
As a result of this development, on Feb. 11, by a 4-2 vote in a closed executive session, Mayor William Armacost and the Sequim City Council decided to direct the city attorney to negotiate the resignation of longtime city manager Charlie Bush. This was retaliation for two things. First, Bush had been publicly critical of the Mayor’s overt rhetoric in support of QAnon conspiracy theories. Second, Bush would not extralegally oppose the S’Klallam Tribe’s MAT clinic construction project and instead followed established procedure in approving the tribe’s permits for their clinic. The vote is significant because, by forcing Bush’s resignation, the City Council and Armacost will have the ability to appoint a City Manager of their own liking.
Is this the end of the struggle?
Many members of the community, rightfully shocked by the ugliness on display, have recognized the need to take back the City Council from the QAnon and SOS supporters and have come together in the Sequim Good Governance League.
Donnie Hall, the Clallam County GOP Campaign and Strategy Committee Chair and co-founder of the Independent Advisory Association, along with Clallam County Commissioner Jim McEntire, have long been consciously recruiting far-right “populist” candidates with the intention of ramming through a reactionary agenda in local government. Among these recruits are Armacost and several members of the Sequim City Council.
The MAT clinic victory is only the latest development in what has been a constant struggle within Sequim’s community for the better part of the last two years. Some might think that the reactionaries will throw up their hands at the legal setback, but this is naïve. Right now, they are regrouping and drafting new plans. In the face of this reality, we must be consciously organized as well. Progressive and revolutionary people must stand with the right of the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe to support their community’s needs as they see fit, and support the development of compassionate, state of the art treatment for opioid addiction.