Additional acreage next to Madrona Point to be returned to Lummi Nation  - Salish Current
April 2, 2024
Additional acreage next to Madrona Point to be returned to Lummi Nation 
Richard Arlin Walker

Land next to Madrona Point to be returned to the Lummi Nation as a result of a recent land purchase includes five parcels immediately north of Madrona Point, bounded by Haven Road to the west, Harrison Point Lane to the north and private property to the east. (NOAA and U.S. Navy via Google Maps)

April 2, 2024
Additional acreage next to Madrona Point to be returned to Lummi Nation 
Richard Arlin Walker

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Nonprofit acquires 2.14 acres for $3 million 

A nonprofit led by a former Lummi Nation chairman has acquired 2.14 acres of ancestral land on Orcas Island in Eastsound. The land will ultimately be turned over to the Lummi Nation.

The land is next to Madrona Point, more than 24 acres that the Lummi Nation acquired in 1989. Madrona Point, the title to which is held in trust by the United States, is a sacred area. Madrona Point and the latest acquisition are part of the ancestral village of Ts’el-xwi-sen’, which comprised what is now Eastsound. 

The nonprofit Se’Si’Le purchased the 2.14 acres from Rose Lee, Jeffrey Reinking and Glenhari Group LLC for $3 million, according to records available online on the San Juan County assessor’s website. The transaction closed on March 17.

W’tot lhem Jay Julius, the former Lummi chairman, is the founder and chairman of Se’Si’Le (pronounced “saw-see’-law,” which means “our grandmother” in Xw’lemi-chosen, the language of the Lummi people). The organization works to protect Indigenous areas, resources and sacred sites. 

Se’Si’Le presented at the International Indigenous Salmon Seas Symposium in October 2022 at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, with participants including representatives of the Lummi and Yakama nations, the Organized Village of Kake and the United Tribes of Bristol Bay in Alaska, and the indigenous Udege and the Itelmen peoples of the Russian Far East. 

A living cultural center is one vision for the site, though that will be up to the Lummi Nation, Julius said.

“What I would love to see is a place where Orcas Island folks can learn more about the history of Madrona Point, the Lummi people, the Swa’lax people. A lot of us have a deep history there,” he said. “My thought around it is education. That’s my hope. Madrona Point is off-limits because it’s a sacred place. [A living cultural center] could help educate folks and be utilized as that space that a lot of people desire and are craving.”

The Lummi Nation formerly allowed the public to walk Madrona Point’s trails, but closed it in 2007 because the site had been desecrated. 

In an article he contributed to the Sierra Club’s April 2023 magazine, Julius described Orcas Island — Swa’lax in the Lummi language — as the place where the Lummi or Lhaq’temish people “lived for countless generations back to the ancestral before-time of Xales (‘the Transformer’) and where our Ancient Ones live on in sacred songs, oral histories and in the spirit of place.”

He told Salish Current, “Our people are of this place.”

‘Places to heal’

The acquisitions come as Lummi culture bearers and educators work to instill cultural knowledge in their young people — and to educate the public at large about the Lummi people and their relationship to the islands.

Lummi cultural educators Shirley Williams and Troy Olsen take young people from Lummi to the islands each summer to learn their language and learn about their culture and their responsibility to this place. One early participant in the camp said he didn’t know his people were from San Juan Island; he thought they had always lived on the reservation. 

Such is the result, Williams said, of government policies that removed the people from their ancestral lands, removed children from their families and sent them to boarding schools, and omitted from school textbooks the history of the First Peoples of this place.

“Our people need places to heal,” Williams said. “We need reconciliation. We need our longhouses back. We need places to heal and to sing and dance and harvest and share our wealth again and to teach our next seven generations. Our late hereditary chief, T’silixw [Bill James] always said ‘You must remember who you are and where you come from.'” 

Williams told of one elder who named his children after the islands — the Indigenous names — “because he didn’t want them to forget who they are and where they come from. He told his children the Creator gave us a sacred responsibility to the land, to the water, to the reef net, to the salmon and to the language that belongs to it. And if it’s not supported, it’s cultural and spiritual genocide.” 

Leaders of the Lummi and other Native nations signed the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855, ceding the islands and other Western Washington lands to the United States for non-Native settlement, but they retain treaty-protected cultural and resource rights in the islands and elsewhere in their historical territory. [Read more: “Tribes 101: About the Native nations that share geography with Washington state,” Salish Current, Feb. 5, 2024]

Inseparable

Lummi never ceded its presence in the islands. In the post-treaty years, Lummi people continued to live in the islands, harvest salmon and other resources on sea and land, and care for sacred sites. 

“The relationship between the people and the land was inseparable,” Olsen said. “It sustained us since time immemorial. We were removed from the land, but we’re still inseparable because our history and our language are from there.”

Madrona Point was acquired in 1890 by a family that built an inn and several cabins there. Norton Clapp, who formerly led Weyerhaeuser Corp. and Boise Cascade, purchased the property in 1967 and in the mid-1980s announced a plan to build 88 condos there. The Lummi Nation and community members intervened, raised $2.2 million to purchase the land and returned it to Lummi in 1989.

In 2013, the Lummi Nation was granted use of a new dock on private property at San Juan Island’s Spirit Cove so they could more easily access a cemetery there. A Lummi ancestor had deeded the two-acre site as a cemetery; the property surrounding the cemetery is now privately owned but is part of a large ancestral village site. 

In August 2016, representatives of the Lummi Nation and the Saanich First Nation installed and dedicated a story pole and two story boards at San Juan Island National Historical Park’s English Camp. The site is known by the Lummi as Pe’pi’ow’elh, a village site where British Royal Marines established their camp during the U.S./British joint military occupation of the island in 1859–1872. The story pole and story boards tell of the connection between the Lummi people and reef-net fishing. 

Also in 2016, a landowner on Henry Island donated 80 acres to the San Juan County Land Bank and the San Juan Preservation Trust on the condition that the Lummi Nation be allowed to use the land for cultural purposes.

And in 2020, the Lummi Nation acquired land at Haida Point on Orcas Island’s West Sound: a landowner donated 36 acres to the Land Bank and Preservation Trust for expansion of the Turtleback Mountain Preserve and six acres to the Lummi Nation. 

And now, another piece of Ts’el-xwi-sen’ is being restored to the Lummi people.

“This is really the continued work of past leaders and people who are no longer here,” Julius said. “People in the community came together with Lummi for Madrona Point. I see in the next six months this being the same thing, that hopefully we will come together as people and establish a relationship that’s long overdue and build on that.”

— By Richard Arlin Walker

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