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Originally published May 7, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 7, 2009 at 9:59 AM

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Bernie Gobin, a proud leader of Tulalip Tribes

Over a long and active life, Bernie Gobin was a fisherman, a politician and a master carver. But each endeavor had a single motivating force...

Times Snohomish County Reporter

Over a long and active life, Bernie Gobin was a fisherman, a politician and a master carver. But each endeavor had a single motivating force — his heritage as an American Indian and his commitment to preserving the Tulalip Tribes' history and culture.

"Everything he was involved with was an expression of how passionately he felt about his people," said his son Steve Gobin.

Bernie Gobin died of an apparent heart attack Monday (May 4). He was 79.

Mr. Gobin served 26 years on the Tulalip board of directors, a period that was turbulent and triumphant. A commercial fisherman, he was active in the fight for Indian treaty rights, including testifying in the case resulting in the landmark Boldt decision of 1974 that awarded half of the state's salmon harvest to Washington tribes.

He was one of the original five members of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, formed after the court decision, to give tribes a say over the management of the state's natural resources. He helped negotiate agreements with the state and federal governments and with other Northwest tribes.

"Bernie was a big part of the management scheme we put in place to revive salmon runs. He never missed a meeting. He was committed to restoring and protecting salmon habitat," said longtime friend Billy Frank, a Nisqually tribal member who has chaired the Fisheries Commission for the past 26 years.

As a member of the Tulalip governing board, Mr. Gobin was one of the leaders who urged the commercial development of the tribes' valuable land along Interstate 5 near Marysville. He'd experienced firsthand the loss of income to tribal fishermen and argued that if the Tulalip Tribes were to maintain economic viability, they had to diversify their economy.

"He saw that natural resources wouldn't sustain us in the future," said Steve Gobin, who is now deputy general manager of the tribes' retail development, Quil Ceda Village.

In winters when he wasn't fishing, Mr. Gobin carved in the kitchen of the house he shared with his wife, Delores, and their six children. He had learned to carve from his own father, and saw in his bentwood boxes, ceremonial bowls and canoe paddles a living connection to his ancestors.

He told an interviewer in 2007, "I wanted to carve so my kids wouldn't have to go to a museum and see it through glass. This was a part of our lives."

The Tulalip Tribes opened an art studio that year. Mr. Gobin's son Joe led a team of artists and carvers who created Native art for the tribes' new $125 million hotel at Quil Ceda Village.

In a wheelchair because of diabetes for the last 10 years of his life, Bernie Gobin frequently visited the art studio and took up a chisel and adz. He said the studio was the realization of his dream for a place where Tulalip carvers and other craftspeople could create and pass on their traditional art.

Besides his wife and sons Joe and Steve, Mr. Gobin is survived by children Patti, Glen and Tom, all of Tulalip; his sister, Betty Taylor, also of Tulalip; and his sister-in-law, Bev Gobin, of Arlington. He was preceded in death by daughter Cheryl.

An interfaith memorial service will be from 1-7 p.m. today at the Tulalip Tribal Center, 6700 Totem Beach Road, Tulalip. The burial service will be at 9 a.m. Friday at the Tribal Center.

The family asks that donations be made to the Tulalip Cultural Center, c/o Benita Rosen, Tulalip Tribes, 6700 Totem Beach Road, Tulalip, WA 98271.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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