Whose Feet: New on Vashon

I’ve just returned from Germany, finally home from travel. This time, I came home not to my West Seattle condo, but instead to nearby Vashon Island. Vashon is nestled in the Puget Sound, just offshore from Seattle and Tacoma.  I’m at my husband’s family home on the island, so I’m officially ‘new on Vashon.’

When I reflect on the locations of my own homes, in light of First Nations’ history, I find that my mind follows a pretty predictable path. I am always wondering if any of my own homes was built on the site of a previous native settlement . . .

I have wondered, were there any Duwamish villages at the site of my West Seattle condo? Well, probably not, because the condo is approximately one mile inland. My learning so far indicates that the Duwamish settlements were placed along the seashore, to take advantage of waterborne transport.

Were there any native settlements on the exact site of this Vashon house? Again, perhaps not. This house is in fact on the waterfront, but maps furnished by the Duwamish Tribe show that the native villages were located elsewhere on the Vashon shoreline. Specifically, there were Duwamish settlements about five miles away, near Quartermaster Harbor, and also near the spot where Vashon meets Maury Island.

So, oddly, I breathe a little sigh of relief when I discover that it’s ‘probably not my own house’ that displaced a First Nations family. I can almost entertain the idea that I’m not responsible for any land grabs. But, where does this line of thinking come from? Isn’t this stretching my Euro-American individualism a bit too far? Do I really believe that any of us exists on a small, bounded parcel of land, without deriving our livelihood from the surrounding environment? Do I believe that my social responsibility extends only to the tip of my driveway? Or that I have no connection to a lost longhouse five miles down the road?

Actually, no. I don’t believe any of those things. On the contrary, I believe that there is such a thing as collective responsibility, and that I am somehow implicated in the decisions of my people. So where is this conviction going to lead me?

And, as the learning continues, how will I find out more about the shellfish tidelands just north of here, allocated to the Muckleshoot Tribe? Or the Puyallup Tribe archeological items found in Burton Acres Park? Or the unmarked native graves that are said to be scattered around Vashon, as silent witnesses to a turbulent past?