“GOOD FAITH SHALL ALWAYS BE OBSERVED TOWARD THE INDIAN; THEIR LANDS AND PROPERTY SHALL NEVER BE TAKEN FROM THEM WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT.”
–U.S. Congress, Northwest Ordinance, 1787
On the twenty-second day of January, 1855, Isaac I. Stevens, Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Territory of Washington—acting on the part of the United States—made a treaty with the Indians of what is known today as Puget Sound, thereby alienating most of what is now western Washington state from its native population. Language barriers aside, the couple thousand delegates of the first nations of the region who negotiated with Stevens and his military entourage on the beach at Mukilteo, in all likelihood grasped the implicit threat should they choose not to accept Stevens’ offer of reservations and the right to fish, hunt, and gather roots and berries at usual and accustomed grounds.
Article VII of the treaty helps to put in perspective the power imbalance at play during this winter parley, noting, “The President may hereafter, when in his opinion the interests of the Territory shall require and the welfare of the said Indians be promoted, remove them from either or all of the special reservations …as he may deem fit…” The TREATY BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND THE DWAMISH, SUQUAMISH AND OTHER ALLIED AND SUBORDINATE TRIBES OF INDIANS IN WASHINGTON TERRITORY—otherwise known as the Treaty of Point Elliott—concluded with eighty-two “Xs” initialed by the Native Americans who could not read or write English.
One hundred forty-one years later, the Samish Indian Nation—one of the aboriginal inhabitants of the renowned San Juan Islands, and signatory to the Point Elliott treaty—finally gained the federal recognition necessary to begin their quest for a reservation. In retrospect, it’s hard to know exactly what the one hundred thirteen Samish present at Mukilteo a century and a half ago envisioned for their descendants seven generations later, but it’s unlikely they could imagine the horrors of economic, social, and cultural annihilation they’d have to endure on their way to once again having a homeland.
Unfortunately, their story is not unique. The official acts of Congress aimed at eliminating the American Indian between 1887 and the present are the subject of this nightmare. Only by honoring this story can we begin reconciliation between our peoples.
The library is dedicated to the memory of Secwepemc Chief George Manuel (1921-1989), to the nations of the Fourth World and to the elders and generations to come.access here