Words

Western Reads

Tulalip, From My Heart

Attend

What: Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and president of the National Congress of American Indians (N

When: 3 pm Thu., May. 25

Where: WWU Arntzen Hall 100

Cost: Free, but space is limited. Please RSVP

Info: http://www.wwu.edu/raywolpow institute/

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

We hear much of property rights and fourth-generation settlers in the Fourth Corner—but where and how were the rights to that property originally obtained? From the people who were here first, obviously. Treaties are the famous mechanism that made such transfers legal; a less obvious one is the scourge of slavery.

Washington was hotly competitive territory for slavers to expand their fading trade in the 19th century, and many Native peoples were enslaved. The women were taken as informal wives by these slavers; and in the marriage, their property was seized and taken through formal claim proceedings.

Sehome Hill, the land upon which Western Washington University is built, was acquired through such a maneuver.
Developing kinship research with the help of Lummi tribal member Gordon Charles, WWU Anthropology Professor Kathleen Young has traced the lives of two Coast Salish women, Xwelas (Mary Sehome) and her niece E-yow-alth (Julia Sehome), who were both married to Edmund Fitzhugh, a Southern slave-owner who moved west and took advantage of the Land Claims Act, claiming Sehome Hill for his association with a mining company.

Xwelas and E-yow-alth lived with him on this land. Eventually, part of that original land-claim was designated for Washington State Normal School.

Ruth Siastenu Sehome Shelton was the sister of E-yow-alth (Julia Sehome) and the niece of Xwelas. Ruth’s father was Chief Sehome, one of the leaders of the Clallam Tribe in the Port Angeles area. Her mother, Emily Sehome, was a member of the Samish tribe spread across Skagit flats and Samish, Guemes, and Orcas islands. Gordon Charles, the great-grandson of Xwelas and himself now quite elderly, has recounted much of the early Lummi history.

Ruth’s daughter, Harriette Shelton Dover, has also described her life among the Samish and on the Tulalip Reservation, and recounts the myriad problems tribes faced after resettlement. Born in 1904, Dover grew up hearing the elders of her tribe tell of the hardships involved in moving from their villages to the reservation on Tulalip Bay.

Her account, Tulalip, From My Heart: An Autobiographical Account of a Reservation Community, has been selected for Western Reads, a campus-wide reading program designed to promote intellectual engagement, community and conversation among new students. The Western Reads program introduces new students to the conversations of the university, including the variety of perspectives and forms of inquiry provided by the disciplines and the diverse students, faculty and staff that make up the Western experience.

Dover herself spent 10 traumatic months every year in an Indian boarding school, an experience that developed her political consciousness and keen sense of justice. The first Indian woman to serve on the Tulalip board of directors, Dover describes her experiences in her own personal, often fierce style, revealing her tribe’s powerful ties and enduring loyalty to land now occupied by others, including the area around Bellingham.  

Western Reads will also be commemorating the 50th Anniversary of “The Right to Be Indian” Conference, which took place at WWU in 1969. In that year, representatives of tribes west and east of the Cascades came to Western Washington State College to support indigenous youth culture. The entire campus read a common book in conjunction with the conference, The Patriot Chiefs:  A Chronicle of American Indian Resistance.

“Even though she has been gone for 20 years, Harriette Shelton Dover continues to be a presence,” notes Tulalip historian and linguist Toby C. S. Langen. “She was a fearless, outspoken woman with a lively sense of the ironic and ridiculous in the course of history and current affairs.

“Harriette gives a loving portrait of the grandmothers who have played a determinative role in the survival of the people.”

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