Tribes commemorate signing of the Point Elliott Treaty

Indian Country Today has a story about the 157th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Point Elliott. The article highlights the importance of the rights reserved by the tribes in 1855.

At the annual Treaty Days commemoration in the Swinomish Smokehouse January 21, one leader talked of how, as a child, he saw his parents get arrested for fishing without a state license, even though Article V of the treaty was their license to fish. Another talked of being harassed recently for hunting elk in traditional hunting areas, another for harvesting cedar.

And so, the battle to protect treaty rights continues. Doing so takes tenacity and it takes education so the individual knows how to defend the treaty in courts and in the halls of government of the dominant society, they said.

“One hundred and fifty seven years ago, the treaty was signed. We gave up a lot,” said Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon. “(The U.S.) wanted us to live on reservations, they wanted us to learn to farm. The assimilation effort was on. But because our ancestors had the hearts of warriors, we have our language and our way of life today.”

The Treaty of Point Elliott was, in a sense, a bill of sale: In exchange for a large swath of land – bordered roughly by Canada to the north, Seattle to the south, the Salish Sea to the west and the Cascades to the east – the U.S. government promised cash, reservations, health care and schools. The 82 Coast Salish leaders who signed the treaty on January 22, 1855 also reserved the rights of their people to fish, harvest and hunt in their “usual and accustomed grounds.”