Tuesday, October 28, 2014

David Buerge, Author, Educator & Student of the Duwamish Tribe

David Buerge, Author of books and articles on the Duwamish People of the Seattle, lecturer specializing in local history and biography  

Portrait of David Buerge. Photo: Madeline Crowley

You know the Duwamish Tribe, even though it doesn’t have a reservation, 
most of its members still live in the traditional areas where the Duwamish lived 
as do a lot of the assimilated...

... Some of these people were here before we came as settlers, as immigrants. 
There were people here before. They’ve suffered greatly but they’ve survived. 
And that survival should give us hope. 

David Buerge is here at the recommendation of Cecile Hansen, Chairwoman of the Duwamish Tribe to talk about what's known about our First Nation’s people, the Duwamish Lake People in the Central Area. 
You call them First Nations, we call them Indians… it’s so Canadian. I try to call them by their names, like, Duwamish
Actually, that’s better. 
Though in the biography, I use ‘Indians’ because it’s what people understand. Native Americans is so laborious and cumbersome. 
What is known about the Duwamish Lake People’s trails and agriculture in the Central Area? 
When you’re talking about the Central Area that is Seattle’s narrow waist between the lake and the river. That itself essentially defines Native use of the area. The Duwamish peoples primarily lived along water-courses: down the shores, along the coasts of rivers, around the coasts of lakes.  
At that narrowest point, if you had a canoe and were in Elliott Bay and wanted to get to Lake Washington you could go all the way up the Duwamish, all the way up the Black (River) and get into the lake outlet and finally make your way to where you wanted to go in the lake. Or, you could take a portage trail from basically where Pioneer Square is now and cross the hills and a mile later or so you’d be in the lake. You wouldn’t carry a big canoe there but a small canoe. Or you could just walk and that would get you into the Lake World. 
The Lake People were different from the people down by Elliott Bay. They were what Marian Wesley Smith called “Salt Water People.” 

Adapted by Madeline Crowley from Coll Thrush's diagrams in his book, Native Seattle... Yellow dots represent Duwamish people's villages. Red lines indicate ancient Duwamish trails. Map is an approximation.
In her estimation there were four areal groups -- she called them ethnic groups. One would call them the River People, the Saltwater People, and the Inland Prairie People. I posit a fourth one; the Lake People. This is because there are a lot of large lakes in west Washington from Lake Whatcom to Lake Washington, and the people who lived on them were a named group. They were the “Hachooabsh.” Which is different from the “Whuljabsh” or the “Duwabshs” or “Suquabsh” and those other groups. But they are a named group;
they were unique.

Their watershed was radial with all these streams that entered Lake Washington, whereas a river has a linear characteristic with people related to villages upstream on the rivers with whom agreements had to be made. 

When the salmon came up the stream you have a weir across the river or a part of the river. And the technology for fishing was so advanced that they could have caught every single fish if they had wanted.

Obviously they didn’t; they had sense enough to know that the people upstream are going to get mad if you take all their fish. So they would agree to put up the screens for a certain amount of days or hours of a day, they would calibrate the distance between the wize and the weir screens to let fish of a certain size through.  

These were timed and there were agreements all up and down the rivers. On the lake, if you put a weir across a tributary there was nobody upstream, so you didn’t have to make agreements with people upstream; except for the case of the Sammamish River. It seems as though the kin structure on the lake was not as linear or as important as it was on the river. 

The River People, of course, give their names to the reservations. You have the Nisquallys, the Suquamish, the Nulalips, the Tulalips tribes are the Snohomish and the Snoqualmie and Skokomish and the other tribes that came into the area after the treaty process. A man named Sam said, “Every river has its people.” I think it’s a wonderful, evocative phrase. 

Lake Washington. Photo: Madeline Crowley

In any case, that was not true of the Lake People. So they’re the first group that disappears. The last we hear of them is in 1864, and after that there’s no more reference to Lake People because they pretty much divided themselves amongst these 'rivering' groups who got reservations – the few that received reservations.
As a result, they were organized differently sociologically. Technologically they were different too. A lake canoe would have been different from a river canoe, and certainly different from a salt water canoe. Also, the resource base was different. And that meant that the life was going to be somewhat different. It would give them their own identity.  

The Central Area was that world between the salt water and the lake. It was this area where was this connecting link, this portage. It also is the area where the horse was introduced in the 1740’s. People from in the larger up-inland areas who had larger prairies would come down onto the Sound regularly to go clam digging, and they brought their horses. They needed a route that would get there efficiently but would also give access to prairies with grass. Of course, the prairies were kept open by repeated burnings every three-five years. Up until that time there was no need for grass except maybe for basket making. Of course when horses appeared then there was a need for fodder.

There was a route that went from the mountains to the (Puget) Sound. It passed through the Central Area. From that point on, you have two routes of communication. Instead of just bay and or river and lake people, now you have the inland prairie people coming in too. So, you have a mix of peoples meeting, and gathering to exchange products and genes (laughs). So, it really becomes a connecting place. Out on the lake shore, there were probably only temporary camps.
Elliott Bay was where permanent residences were but that was only between November and February or March. Then, the families in each household broke up and went to their various traditional collecting places. Mary S.A. Smith said if you knew the family you knew where they would be during the course of the year because they had a specific itinerary.  

Cedar Tree Bark. Photo: Madeline Crowley

Sometimes families would gather together to share work together or to celebrate; they were very sociable people. They had to be, because relationships between groups and less distant groups, whether they were friends or not, were based upon kinship. Also, this was how news was passed around.

One pioneer who lived on the Columbia River, who very wistfully talked about the natives (like a lot of the pioneer settlers) said, “Oh, the Indians don’t do anything. They just go fish like crazy or dig clams or whatever for an hour or three-four hours and then they just sit around and talk”. Well, talk was very important because one parlayed the news and also found out what your kin were doing in other areas. It was how you passed on information. These communicating links were extremely important. There were no villages within the land in the Central Area as far as we’re aware. There would have been no reason to have them there. 

However, surely there were camps in the Central Area where people would gather: camas, tree bark, salal, berries, and so on, and it was where the burns would have happened. The area was used, but the most important aspect was this place was where there were these trails. 
You said that you thought one of those trails might date back to pre-historic times. 

Oh, yes. The portage trail surely is prehistoric. You wouldn’t just use it to portage canoes, you would use it to walk over to the lake. The interesting thing is there are enough people who remember where it was into historic times so that we can actually track the trail. Even if you go back and find the earliest maps that show the earliest roads, the roads pretty much follow the trails because, well, the people chose the trail routes because they made sense according to the grade of the hill. 

You would never hike, for instance, along a stream bottom between hills, because you would never get anywhere if you tried! It was just a mess, there were blowdowns and logjams. You would try to at least be on the flank or the summit of a hill because that was more open country. It was much easier to travel. So these roads, these routes, were chosen with some sensibility. A lot of them became wagon roads for obvious reasons; this was the easiest way to get from point A to point B. So, if you look at the maps and see where some of the earliest roads you notice they correspond rather closely to where people remember the trail to have been. Then, it’s fairly likely that the oldest roads follow the trails. And so, we can actually see this transmutation happening as these maps get printed over time. 

Map Detail. Central Area of Seattle and Native Trails.
Adapted from Coll Thrush's diagrams in his book, Native Seattle... Red dotted line running horizontally indicates the ancient Duwamish trail from the village at today's Elliot Bay to
today's Leschi Park. This would intersect, very roughly, with today's Yesler Way. Trail running vertically goes to the Mountains and runsvery roughly about where Rainier Ave is now.  Map is an approximation.

Did any of these trails become roads we know now?

Yesler...The Indian trail probably intersected Yesler at a couple of places. It ended up that there was an Indian settlement, it had several names, “Guilguaetch” called by the settlers Fleaburg. It was at the western end of the cable car line as it reached Lake Washington (Leschi). 

My guess is that portage probably quickly became a wagon road. Whereas I don’t think there had been a native village there before it became a road and certainly before it became a streetcar. After, there was reason to have a (native) settlement there because you could stop there and then take the road of the trail over to visit and to trade at Pioneer Square; there was a big (native) village over there.  
There were villages nearby, there was one near the exit of the lake to the south, there was one at Atlantic City Beach Park. Princess Angeline was supposed to have been born there. There was one up at Genesee Park, I believe. There certainly were villages at Union Bay. We know where the villages were located on Lake Washington. Neither Guilguaetch nor Fleaburg are mentioned in the earliest records as Indian villages, but we do know that there was an Indian settlement there in historic times.

That probably was because of the great access that settlers and pioneers built from the Lake to the Sound, which followed the Indian route, and then later (more) settlers followed. After that happened then the native people came and sold things to settlers. If they came from the Lake or east of the Lake; they would gather (at Leschi) and they could either canoe that long distance around to get there, or they could just park their canoes on the lake and walk over a mile with their baskets full and then trade. That’s why I'd guess a native settlement developed there. I don’t think it lasted much beyond the time that the lake began to be populated with settlers’ homes. That was usually the pattern. Native people could live, camp, wherever they chose until the settlers began to specifically claim, fence, and develop properties (sometimes on land that was already worked and farmed). Then the native people had to move unless there was a reservation. 

This area where the cable car came through is what is now Leschi Park and the Marina. 

Yes, of course. The park is named Leschi because it was said it was where the Leschi Nisqually war leader Leschi camped before attacking Seattle, in January 1856.

Salal. Photo: Madeline Crowley

Leschi probably wasn’t anywhere near, there were an awful lot of other war leaders, people even from east of the mountains to participate in that attack on Seattle. The Yakama and the Wenatchi came over the pass on the trail in snowshoes during the dead of winter. 

The Americans (settlers) never imagined they would do that. It was probably as many as 100 (warriors). They crossed the lake, and of course they timed their crossing. This is a great story, it just shows the bubble of ignorance that the settlers lived in. They would serve in the militia. The militias were organized after the killings on the White River in 1855. (The Mashel Massacre)

Well, the town Seattle had a sawmill. Well, who operated the sawmill? The Indians operated the sawmills while the soldiers were marching. They (settlers) had forts, there was Fort Dent at the outlet of the Black River into the White River that led into the Duwamish (River), and they had sentries cruising the lake. When their enlistment was up, what did they do? Well, they went home.

So the next day, of course, the Indians crossed the Lake. It’s like, ‘No one saw this coming!’ Then they attacked, so that was probably a staging area. The initial staging area was Mercer Slough, there were several houses there; it was a village site. When the militia eventually went east of the lake after the Battle of Seattle, they found the carcasses of the cattle and other animals that the settlers had brought in. The warriors had used and eaten them. And so there were several staging areas for the battle, but Leschi Park wasn’t one of them. 

University of Washington Libraries. Special Collections Division.
Seattle Waterfront, 1856

So what happened then as settlers built homes? The Native peoples didn’t just disappear. 

No, they moved to different areas, there’s actually several. That’s the interesting thing. The value of early history is people would write things down about these communities in Seattle like Madrona, Mount Baker, Laurelhurst. People wrote these histories in the 1920s and 30s, they had access to people whose memories went back to the last decades of the 19th century. So there are written statements saying, “Indians lived here and Indians lived there.”  
As you mentioned, they would have to move off of a specific local when settlers wanted their land and they would move to other places. And so, McAleer and Lyon Creek, there’s a park on the Northwestern shore of Lake Washington, that drains from Ballinger down to Lake Washington where there was a village hidden behind a swamp there probably as late as 1916. People would move around the lake. The big change was when they lowered the lake (with the Chittenden Locks). That took out all the sockeye spawning beds on the lake because they were high and dry--and it took decades for the fish to reestablish themselves. And also the Wapato roots in the swamps, used as food, became high and dry and they became brushlands. Frankly, the economic value and benefit of the lake vanished for the native people for many years. 

Snowberry, used by the Duwamish as a medicinal plant.
Photo: Madeline Crowley

So, essentially the people were able to make a living at the lake... 

As they had done for tens of thousands of years… 

Then the Montlake Cut brought the level of the lake down, some say as much as 20 feet. 
Possibly. The interesting thing is that the lake level was lowered at the delta of the May Creek on the east side when it was exposed they found hearths! So, Lake Washington has a very ambiguous personality in the (native) folklore. There are many places along its shore that were looked upon as malevolent places inhabited by malevolent beings. There were all these drowned forests that were inhabited by spirit beings.  

Underwater Forest. Diving Video by Dan Warter, DCS films

There was a story where a man who was taking bark off these dead snags at this other end of Mercer Island who began to feel strange. When he was dying the Medicine Man’s diagnosis was that he had been taking tree bark and the spirits who inhabited these trees weren’t pleased, so they’re were driving him crazy; so stop taking the bark off the trees.  

Well, the danger attributed to these drowned forests - where did these drowned forests come from?  About the years 900-1100 there was a huge subduction quake, on the Seattle Fault. It was an enormous earthquake; so enormous that it shook major landslides into Lake Washington. These carried entire forests with them, and the forests are still there.  

If you go on the web and look up Lake Washington Drowned Forest they have photographs and diaries taken of all these trees; hundreds of feet tall and still with all the limbs. The lake level naturally fluctuated during the course of the year, and so in the low water the tops of the trunks of these forests would stick out of the water. Later, the Coast Guard or somebody cut the trees down so that boats wouldn’t snag or get cut up on them. But they’re still there.  

So the memory of these events was retained; they had these waves, huge tsunamis in the lake. It was like getting in the bathtub, water sloshed back and forth in the lake; probably caused untold damage. You had these enormous tectonic slides.  

So, the lake had a very ambiguous history (for the Native Peoples). Nevertheless it was peoples’ home so they went back and reestablished themselves. After the lake was lowered they would have reestablished themselves, weren’t it for the fact that by 1916 settlers were flooding into the area. Waterfront property then, as now, was in very much demand. And so, the lakeshore was settled, eventually to the point where the native people could no longer sustain a traditional life along the lake. So they moved elsewhere. 

Lake Washington, Seattle. Photo: Madeline Crowley

I read that Natives who did try to stay starved. 

Or assimilated. I mean, there were always these interesting articles: Last of His Tribe, Lake John is Holding a Potluck. Implying, 'Oh my God, they’re all dying.' No! Many of them assimilated and are actually still living in the area. Or they moved out like people do in a modern, industrial, commercial nation; so they scattered across the country.  

You know the Duwamish tribe, even though it doesn’t have a reservation, most of its members still live in the area that the Duwamish traditionally lived in as do a lot of the assimilated.  

This is much the same as the Duwamish were before the city of Seattle was even created, because the Hudson Bay Company changed the lifeways of the people in profound ways. That’s assimilation; or acculturation in any case. But then there was the arrival a very radical society (for the Duwamish) that came with the American settlers. Then assimilation was the name of the game. So many chose out of necessity to assimilate. 

It sounds like they had an existing out-marriage tradition, because you had so many peoples, the Lake Peoples, the Salt Water, the Prairie. And so you married… 

You extended your economic base by marrying. This was essentially true of the nobility on the saltwater. You would go up and down the Sound, so you would have people that are related to all sorts of groups. Along the rivers it was primarily up and down rivers. So you had the ramified kinship of rivers. On the lakes, since there was really no one upstream from you except the Sammamish, they probably would have married within the other named groups like the Sammamish. The Lake Washington people were the Hachooabshs,
the Lake Sammamish people were the S-tah-pahbsh, which was the second lake, while the Lake Union people were the  Ha-achu-abshs, which means the smallest lake. Lake Union (Pictures of Duwamish living on Lake Union), Lake Sammamish, and Lake Washington; all related because they lived on these lakes. And so they almost certainly intermarried amongst themselves, but also with outlying groups; again just to extend their economic base.
Then when the settlers came, they out-married as it was their existing tradition. 

They tried to. Then, the story is told that somehow they disappeared but really they were just continuing their tradition. 

Now, of course, a lot of them did disappear to reservations. A lot of them were moved off. Nevertheless you’re right. Also, conflict traditionally (with the Native Peoples) as far as I can measure prior to contact (with settlers) was all through sexual politics. If you had a beef with someone you could beat each other up, or you could intermarry. Either way, the problem would be solved. 

It was just war in a different guise. Returning to the topic of intermarriage between natives and settlers, Ellwood Evans, who was a very early historian of the area, believed that as much as 60% of the total white population (which would have been single white men) would have married native wives. You know there are famous or infamous examples: Ulysses Grant, General Picket, Valentine Augustus Copps, all had native wives. Also Chief Seattle gave his granddaughter Betsy to David Maynard as a wife. I think his brother Curley gave his daughter Julie to Henry Yesler. Now, both of those men (Maynard and Yesler) were already married, but their wives weren’t here. This was just the way it was done. 

The native people wanted to intermarry with this obviously very influential and very wealthy incoming group. That’s the way it had always been done. Similarly, with the peoples from east of the mountains, when they came west on horseback over the mountains, the Native peoples here wanted to intermarry with them. They were wealthy, obviously they were powerful, they had horses -- a new mode of transport. People just came in great numbers over the passes, especially after the epidemics decimated the people on the coast, these interior equestrian people came over in large numbers to the Puget Sound and intermarried with the local groups. We have a lot of people here whose ancestors were Yakama, Wenatchi. 

Image courtesy of Tom Dailey. Collection of Tom Dailey. All rights reserved.
Can you talk a little about their relations to the landscape? People may not know anything about the native indigenous peoples here. 

That’s a real popular topic. 

Let me start with a wonderful story--I love this story. The whale has become an icon of people in the Puget Sound area. So when the Makah decided to hunt whales…
It’s ambiguous because people have mixed feelings still. They think native people have/were given rights when in fact lands and rights were reserved to them from the treaties. In any case, there’s this ambivalence as they’re often held up as icons of cooperation with nature.

Well, then what happens when, for example, the Makah decided to go whaling? (laughs) There are these pictures of the Makah having caught a whale. 

People were just totally stunned because...how could they respond to this? Oh, my gosh! You have these iconic people who are close to nature killing this iconic creature! How can we apprehend this phenomenon?  

This is a long way of saying basically as far as I can ascertain, native people had a very ambivalent relationship with the land. Obviously they depended on it, and they were very sensible when it came to using the land.

For example, as I said, their fishing technology was advanced. You really couldn’t get much more advanced given the nature of the materials that they worked with. They had a capacity to fish out every stream; they could have caught every fish. Yet, they did not because they lived here for hundreds of generations, and they understood how the landscape worked; how the populations lived. And they were sensible. 

This was a managed fishery--this was not a wild fishery, this was a managed fishery in Puget Sound. Same with the land resources, regarding the fact that native people set fires that burned huge tracts of land on a regular basis seems shocking to many people today, but that was done. In 1792 when Vancouver comes in and sees these beautiful green open areas surrounded by forest, it was open because people burned them off quite regularly. We know that’s true because when they stopped the practice of burning the clearings were overgrown by trees very quickly.  

Nevertheless, nature was huge here, and the forests were immense. You know, native people could get lost in the forest just like non-native people could. And even when you went into them, you left the daylight, or whatever passes for daylight around here, you went out into the forest it was darker and gloomier than elsewhere. It’s a little creepy. The forest was inhabited by animals, but also by supernatural beings that could steal your soul. Well, that’s what happens when you undergo a panic when you’re lost. That would be interpreted as soul-theft. 

Beyond that, you had to contend with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. So you have Mount Rainier (Tahoma), has a triple identity, Maiden, Mother, and Hag. It is the beautiful wife who comes to grief and is sent away by her husband, or she is the bountiful mother who nourishes her children, or she is the all devouring hag who covers the lands with the bones of her victims. You have these powerful images associated with this extremely dominant landmark.

Almost all the great volcanic peaks have legends like that. 

Image Courtesy of the Tacoma Public Library, Northwest Room Postcards. Mount Rainer from Lake Washington. 

The rivers are inhabited by beings, the lakes are inhabited by supernatural beings. They are expressions of a highly ambivalent relationship with the land.  

What’s really interesting in a lot of initiation ceremonies, people/initiates were turned into wild beings, but then they were brought back through ritual and made civilized people. So the idea of wildness was very vivid in the native mind, probably more than in ours. I mean we have natural parks where nature is safely bounded within these areas that are relics of a much larger wild that figured deeply into the Native imagination and intelligence. I think it was highly ambivalent, and therefore very powerful. 

One of the things that Coll Thrush's book (which is excellent and a fun read: Native Seattle) mentions was around Leschi there was a very magical, ambivalent serpent being. 

Ah yes, that’s the “A’yahos”.

Now, that's interesting because there’s actually a series. The A’yahos was the horn headed serpent, and it was believed that it lived within the land, and when it shifted that caused the earthquakes. Three Tree Point was said to have had an A’yahos in the bluffs, and that’s why gravel would sometimes tumble down. And sometimes it does without an earthquake, just because it does.  

Image Courtesy of the Tacoma Public Library, Northwest Room Postcards. Greenwood - 37. 
There is a lineup of these kinds of monsters. It’s no accident that they coincide with the line of the Seattle Fault. At Fauntleroy, there’s this reddish boulder that is said to be an A’yahos. And essentially, it’s said that people wouldn’t even look in its direction; if you went by it and looked at it your head would be turned on your neck. Which is to say, don’t camp here. Don’t camp on this beach.  

Radar maps show big avalanches and mudslides pouring into the Fauntleroy area where areas collapsed. Probably the rock is there because a slide brought it there, emanating from a bluff. Four Mile Rock is the same kind of thing. There was a hero, Stah-koob, who would throw his net over the rock.  

Whenever you have mythic beings associated with any landmarks that underscores the potency of the landmark. The A’yahos is distinct because it’s an earthquake monster, and Colman Park is such a place. And there is an A’yahos there. It is probably there because of a historic event. There was a landslide that happened there around 1880 that pushed the lakeshore there. If you look on a map there’s a big bulge where Colman Park is, because that’s where the landslide was.  
So when the ethnolinguist Thomas Talbot Waterman  came through here and taught at the U, he collected lots of place names for the Puget Sound region; about seven hundred of them. When he would ask people “What do you call this?” or “What do you call that?” like Colman Park, “Oh yeah, that’s where the A’yahos is.”  

In Coll Thrush's book if I remember correctly, people used to come and do ceremonies on the shore somewhere near today’s Leschi.  The nature of the serpent creature was ambivalent and dangerous.  Natives said as settlers moved in they disturbed the nature of this being, and it fled.

That sounds very poetic. I think there was a lot of atavism in those stories. One of the things was that the rituals that were carried out on the lake shore, and certainly where Renton is today and on the shore of Elliott Bay was the spirit canoe ceremony.

Spirit Canoe (Shamans and the Spirit Canoe) was held in the wintertime during the winter solstice because that was the time when the land of the dead was believed to be open, and ghosts who were lonely for human company come and visit their human kin. Also, that’s when the most deaths occurred among the old and the very young during those cold winter months. If you were going to die, that was probably when, there was a spike of death always at that time of the yeah. Or, instead people would get ill.  

With soul-theft for healthy people, the symptom was loss of property. If you had a bad run at gambling or whatever, you would call in the shaman ceremonialists who would carry out a soul recovery ceremony, which would last five or six consecutive nights. It was probably the most elaborate of all rituals ceremonies held in the Puget Sound. It incorporated and used large wooden planks that were shaped like whales. And they had abstract paintings on them with images of spirit figures on them.

Image Courtesy of the Tacoma Public Library, Northwest Room Postcards. Fisherman's Return. 
That style is the Puget Sound style; it’s not the totem poles shown around the Puget Sound. The totem poles are from the Northwest Coast. The art-style here was far more abstract.  

In any case, these boards were covered in a white paint pigment, and then either black or red pigment was used to outline these figures on them with many dots, and the dots were like the notes of songs. They were the emanation of power from the spirit beings. The red pigment for the red dots came from Licton Springs  in north Seattle. Licton, isn’t an Anglo-Saxon name, it’s one of two Native American names that still identifies specific features. One is the Duwamish River; the other is Licton Springs. That is where a spring bubbles up ferric oxide (the area's importance to the Duwamish); my son and I did an examination (of that) for a science fair project. Anyways, this oxide was gathered and baked as red pigment.  

There was a shaman who lived at Elliott Bay where Pier 70 is today, who made these spirit boards in his place. And there were figures, carved, painted figures there. These were used once, and then they were hidden away; generally in the woods. So we don’t know quite what the figures were. Probably these figures were used in a soul recovery ceremony. Such a ceremony was held in the wintertime, and many villages would hold it.  

There’s no reason to imagine that it wasn’t held at Jijilaetch (Little Crossing Over Place, near what is today’s Pioneer Square) and Fleaburg too, because there would be a time when people would gather there, if they were working at Yesler’s Mill or wanting to trade in Seattle. After 1865 native peoples could not build their homes within city limits. They could not, so they had to live outside. So 1865 may be a beginning date for the village of Fleaburg. I just figured it out just now; talking about it. Serendipity. They could have had a ceremony there. And what that person may have remembered might have been that. 

Just out of curiousity, what piece of knowledge do you wish you had when you were 15? 

I can tell you right off. When I was 15, I was fascinated… I wanted to be a classics scholar. I was really interested in Greek and particularly Roman history. I was just overwhelmed by it. I became really interested in the books of Pausanias, which was a Greek geographer who lived in the early part of the Christian Era. He wrote a guidebook to ancient Greece, basically for Roman tourists. He would tell about all these temples and where all things that happened in mythology were. 

Image Courtesy of the Tacoma Public Library, Nortwest Room Postcards. Puget Sound Sand...  

I used to think, "Oh my gosh, I’m going to have to go to the Mediterranean just to see these places". Then in the 1970s, a fellow named Marshall Soll who lived on Vashon Island gave me a copy of T.T. Waterman’s Puget Sound Geography. There was also microfilm of it, I had to read the microfilm at the Seattle Public Library. I was living on Vashon Island so every night I would take the ferry over to read it.

I would have loved to have known at age 15 that this world existed (here), it would have been so fascinating to explore. That’s what I would have loved to have known. Anyhow, is there value in it for everyone? I learned about it. I helped popularize it. I helped provide information for people who wrote other articles. I wrote about fifteen to twenty features for the Seattle Weekly relating Native American mythology of the area.  

So, what could people do today? One is to learn about the lay of the land. I think when people are very young, especially boys and a lot of girls, they like to play on the margins. Where the house and lawn ends and the brush begins, where the wild begins to appear; that’s where kids build their forts. That’s always been the case. So, little kids are very close to the land; literally and figuratively. They discover things like hills and ponds and lakes and ditches. They’re always in the ditches poking around. And there’s a real affinity for landmarks and big rocks and things like that.  

Later on in life that early template of childhood; the land you lived on as a child; if you were fortunate enough to have grown up in a particular landscape, that’s going to remain with you for your whole life and a meaning accretes to it. There’s meaning that comes from it. To be able to understand what people before you thought and felt about the same landscape is a way to enrich your life. It just adds to the richness of life.  

The other thing is, and this is for us as we become adults. Native people have actually lived through an apocalypse. They are the survivors of an apocalypse. 

Image Courtesy of the Tacoma Public Library, Nortwest Room Postcards. Puget Sound Indians Siwash Seattle.

When you think of literature and films today there are always these apocalyptic scenarios. 

And zombies. 

Zombies...because people are terrified of an apocalypse because they sense that we are actually living through one. Global warming is just one manifestation of it.

Well, how can you live through an event like this? A lot of people lose hope, a lot of people feel like they need to go into realms of imagination because reality is too threatening. 

It’s good to remember that there are actually people around who lived through something like that. Therefore, their experience has value. Especially how they adapted to it and how they responded to it.

I’ve always been amazed at how generous in spirit that Native people that I’ve worked with are. Also, their evident deep and abiding sense of humor. How they were actually able to find humor in terrible circumstances. That knowledge humanizes us, and so I would put forward those two elements as good connections between our present lives and the past. One, is it helps us become more grounded in the land we live on, so we feel responsible for it (as we should)  and its maintenance, and its development should be part of our thought process. Also, because we live with many kinds of people.

Some of these people were here before we came, we as settlers, as immigrants. There were people here before. They’ve suffered greatly, but they’ve survived. And that survival should give us hope. 


Great ending, huh? 

(David came to this project via the efforts to Cecile Hansen, Chairwoman of the Duwamish Tribe, to whom we remain very grateful)

Special thanks also to our valued intern, Zachary Hitchcock of Seattle University, for his indefatigable help with many things, one of them this transcription

©  Madeline Crowley People of the Central Area 2014   All material is covered by copyright. Express written permission must be given for any copyrighted material on this page. Email to request permission to copy or paste materials. 

This project was supported in part by
4Culture's Heritage Projects program


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About Me

Seattle, WA, United States
I am not a professional photographer nor a trained journalist. At community meetings, it became clear that many of us don’t know each other. We haven’t heard each other’s stories and don't know each other’s circumstances. This is my attempt to give a few people the chance to tell their story, to talk about our community, to say their piece in peace. As such, comments have been disabled. The views and opinions expressed here are those of each narrator and do not necessarily reflect the position of views of the CentralAreaComm.blogspot blog site itself. The CentralAreaComm.blogspot.com is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied by narrators of this project. All interviews have been edited and in places condensed.

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