I discovered this week, while visiting the Hibulb Cultural Center, that the Tulalip Tribes celebrate annual ‘Treaty Days.’ This event commemorates the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855, in which local tribes were pushed to cede 10,000 square miles of ancestral land between Seattle and the Canadian border. Most of us would consider this an epic injustice, not something to celebrate. What is going on here?
To borrow the Center’s quote from Vi Hilbert: “Treaty Day is not the celebration of losing our land, but the regaining of our right to practice our spiritual traditions.”
Apparently in 1912, a tribal leader named William Shelton sought US government approval to launch a Treaty Days celebration, which would include some traditional spiritual ceremonies that had been outlawed for decades. The Point Elliott linkage tickled the government’s interests and got the plan approved. The traditional spiritual ceremonies were restored – and many children who had been taken away to government boarding schools were allowed home to see it happen.
Amazing. I don’t know the whole story, and I understand that it provokes mixed feelings even within the tribes. Yet for me as a learner, there is something in this story that frees and inspires. As a spiritual choice, it looks like an extreme example of the saying ‘If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ As a political maneuver, it looks very clever indeed. Both are qualities that I aspire to.
Best of all, when I heard this story, I suddenly felt a whole lot less powerful as a ‘white person.’ This story whispers a truth to whoever holds sway: ‘If you do evil to me, I cannot condone or excuse it…but I can use it to make myself stronger. You will see that I cannot be crushed.’ This strength of spirit is something worth celebrating.
The Tulalip Tribes describe themselves as the “successors in interest to the Snohomish, Snoqualmie and Skykomish tribes and other tribes and bands signatory to the Treaty of Point Elliott.” To learn more, check out www.hibulbculturalcenter.org.