The watershed 1855 Point Elliott Treaty, signed near present day Mukilteo, Washington, drastically reduced Salish tribal lands. It was negotiated using about 300 Chinook Jargon words — which made nuances unclear to many of the signatories, who mostly spoke versions of Lushootseed.
The Snohomish, Skykomish, Snoqualmie, and other ally tribes were combined into the area that now makes up the Tulalip Indian Reservation — just North of Everett, Washington near Marysville. Today, the Tulalip Tribes own and manage a variety of operations centering around Quil Ceda, which include the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve (photo shown above).
With the motto “So we can remember,” the living museum offers an important perspective, from the Indian point of view, into the fold. With their recent reopening, I was finally able to pay a visit last week.
Like the beautiful cedar baskets on display, the museum eloquently weaves a path of engaging, honest conversation. I found so many of my questions answered, with information offered in earnest. The well-curated exhibits bridge a gap of understanding forged by the dominant culture in our society — since the signing of the disregarded treaty.
When I share my experience learning about the Point Elliott Treaty with others, I’m met with such a variety of emotions. To me the reactions underscore the power of this topic to pull on personal heartstrings. Verbal and non-verbal responses seem indicative to me of the angst in the dominant culture around the past calamities of this nation we hold to be great.
This journey for members of U.S. dominant culture, especially those of European descent, can feel raw with emotions that bring on feelings of shame, guilt, or helplessness to change the events of the past. It can be too difficult to bear and so the conversation turns to deflective tactics that sound like “I didn’t do this…” or the 180-degree, “I’m ashamed of my privilege…” On both sides of the spectrum, I feel as though the answer is to work through the feelings — not on either side of them.
My way of working through my feelings is to try to gain as much understanding as I can of history as a way to inform my journey forward. I grew up in a town named after a Chinook Indian trading mecca — Scappoose — where we learned about the Pacific Northwest Indians from a 1970’s dominant culture point of view. Although this helped form an early appreciation for the first inhabitants of the land, I put this information aside for years. My reinvigorated focus two years ago, on exploring and writing about the Pacific Northwest, reopened a new spiritual chapter in my own journey — recently highlighted by visits to Joseph, Oregon and the Hibulb Cultural Center.
Yet, for the past 30 years I’ve done this work with other cultures all over the world. I’ve walked through concentration camps in Germany and the Killing Fields in Cambodia and even wore a Geiger counter around my neck while climbing up the stairs of an abandoned apartment building in Pripyat (near the Chernobyl meltdown). The spirits of the land and place crave acknowledgment while offering practical reminders not to repeat the same mistakes.
The experiences traveling make it easier for me to understand the need for reconciliation that comes from openness to acknowledge the past and help in whatever way we can to bridge the healing that wants to come.
Some have told me, “concentration camps are so depressing,” to which I say, “well… yes, that’s the point…” But what I really mean is that yes, acknowledging past atrocities is tough. It can bring about a lot of uncomfortable feelings, indeed. But I see it as important work the living descendants can do to ensure the healing process (and learning from history) continues.
This uncomfortable acknowledgement is one of the gifts of travel. Embracing past history to better understand the present and avoid the same mistakes in the future.
- We can learn from 800 years of brutal rule by the British in Ireland — culminating around Belfast in the late 20th century.
- We can learn from the Berlin Wall.
- We can learn from Robben Island near Cape Town in South Africa.
- We can bring these lessons uncomfortably close to home to learn from the real tour at a plantation in Charleston (eg, Slavery to Freedom tour).
- And, as an example of regional opportunities, we can learn more about the Point Elliott Treaty.
The original Point Elliott Treaty is in the permanent collection at the National Archives in Washington, DC, but is on loan at the Hibulb Cultural Center. I couldn’t make out a lot of the fancy writing in calligraphy, but the X’s marked by each indigenous signatory are clear enough to me (photo shown below).
To learn why the tribes agreed to this, and what happened after the treaty was signed (some of this is quite obvious, but there are important details to embrace), you’ll need to visit the museum and read through the excellent narrative. The 90 minutes I spent here made me squirm but proved important for my own spiritual evolution as a born-and-raised Pacific Northwesterner.
I don’t have the answers for what comes next. But what I do know is that the only way to the other side is through the difficult questions and feelings, not up or down or sideways or a head in the sand. Insights gained through travel can help us through these worlds — even if that’s a museum 30 miles up the road.
The Duwamish people are the host tribe of Seattle and King County — where I enjoy life in a stunningly beautiful setting. When I don’t know what to do or say, I usually venture to the tribal websites for information. On the Duwamish Tribe website, they offer a few ideas, like a land acknowledgment:
“If you are looking to make your own land acknowledgement, please use this example to construct your own:
I would like to acknowledge that we are on the traditional land of the first people of Seattle, the Duwamish People past and present and honor with gratitude the land itself and the Duwamish Tribe.
This 4th of July, there is much to celebrate about the goodness in the American people — especially those who have put their own needs aside to serve our nation. Today, amongst it all, perhaps you’ll join me in acknowledging, in your own way, the people whose land (and free labor) helped build this country to the stature we celebrate today.