Understanding the importance of the Point Elliott Treaty - Salish Current
January 28, 2021
Understanding the importance of the Point Elliott Treaty
Terri Thayer

Marking Treaty Day, a Children of the Setting Sun Productions video, provides historical perspective on the 166-year-old Point Elliott Treaty — and a look at even more longstanding ways of life among the Lummi Nation. (CSSP image)

January 28, 2021
Understanding the importance of the Point Elliott Treaty
Terri Thayer


The views expressed in the essays, analyses and opinions as Community Voices are those of the author exclusively and not necessarily of Salish Current.

This essay was originally shared with the Whatcom Community College campus community on Jan. 22, 2021.

Today is Lummi Treaty Day. On Jan. 22, 1855, a hundred and sixty-six years ago, the United States of America entered into a solemn agreement with the Lummi Nation. This solemn agreement, this treaty, is known as the Point Elliott Treaty.

Two important elements to understand are the sovereignty of the Lummi Nation and the significance of the term “treaty.” The power of these two pieces is integral to understanding the importance of these agreements then and now.

Sovereign: The United States did and still identifies tribal nations as sovereign. The precedent was set in these written agreements as treaties. It is a declaration that we are a people with our own government and ability to engage directly, government to government. The very idea of being a sovereign nation has been and continues to be challenged directly and indirectly. The ongoing invisibility, lack of acknowledgement and simplistic recognition of Native people, land and culture is here and now.

Treaty: This has always been seen as a promise, a commitment, that each party made in working with each other. Treaty Day is not about celebrating an agreement made with white people. It is a recognition of the effort made on behalf of Lummi people to work together. It is a contract that shows an effort at unity. It is a document that everyone in this area has benefited from in one way or another. It’s a recognition of the agreement that must still to this day be honored.

This day must be recognized by all. It is the foundation of who we are and how we exist as Washingtonians. Treaty Day is an example of how to create unity, to revitalize a commitment to each other and our Lummi community. We must continue to acknowledge, respect and include Native voices. What are you doing to honor this agreement? How are you educating yourself? It is our responsibility to do our research and put our knowledge into action.

I cannot express fully the gratitude I have for my Lummi brothers and sisters. As a Native woman, I understand the ongoing sacrifices that come with honoring our ancestors’ hopes and commitments. For me this effort at peace and building is a cultural way of communal leadership.


I continue to hope and encourage all of us to open our hearts and minds to the diverse perspectives that make us complete and whole, honoring the diversity of who we are as a community.

[For more about the Treaty of Point Elliott: See the Treaty of Point Elliott, exhibit on ‘The Power of Words’ at Tulalip Cultural Center (KNKX, Jan. 25, 2021)]

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