Treaty tree seedling planted on reservation

When representatives of nine tribes and bands of Indians signed the Treaty of Medicine Creek in 1854, a grove of Douglas firs stood sentry nearby. 

The rights to fish, hunt and gather reserved in that treaty are still practiced and protected by the tribes generations later—and now a seedling from a tree in that grove is growing on the Nisqually reservation, standing guard once again. 

Nisqually Tribal Council Vice-Chair Antonette Squally led an effort to acquire seedlings descended from the original “treaty tree,” the last surviving tree from the site near the Nisqually River delta. While a windstorm felled the original tree—which had died of disease earlier—in the 1970s, several of its seeds were planted, and others preserved.

 Squally led a ceremony earlier this year to plant one seedling on the reservation and give seedlings to other tribes party to the treaty: Muckleshoot, Puyallup and Squaxin Island.

Squally said she was struck by the mission to make sure a link to the tribe’s past would again take root in reservation land. 

“There are seedlings and they should be growing at the edge of the reservation,” she said. 

The Washington State Historical Society, the Nisqually Tribal Council and historical experts with the tribe helped in the effort, Squally said, which eventually culminated with seedlings contributed by Bob Barnes of Holly Tree Farms.

Members of the Nisqually Tribe and representatives of other tribes party to the treaty gathered in chilly January weather for the planting. 

Squally said the weather reminded her of the conditions hereditary chiefs, sub-chiefs and ancestors faced—and endured—to provide for future generations.

“They are the reason we have survived—the foresight of their actions. They did this for the future generations of their people,” she said. “I stood strong on this day, but my heart was very heavy thinking of what they were subjected to.”

Squaxin Island Tribal President Kris Peters said his ancestors would have been pleased to see the tree again take root.

“Plants have an energy. Trees have a life. We knew we were never above our environment,” he said. “We worked together.” 

The crowd that witnessed the planting gathered for a meal after.

“This is monumental—something that’s embedded in each and every one of us,” said Puyallup Tribe of Indians Council member Fred Dillon. “To see something that represents the treaty tribes like this, in my lifetime, is incredible. This is something beautiful.”

Representatives of tribes that were signatories of the Treaty of Medicine Creek plant a treaty tree seedling on the Nisqually Indian Tribe’s reservation in January. Story and photo: Trevor Pyle