More than a century later, Treaty Days continues, though it is not widely known, if at all, off the reservation. Tribes still gather each year at Tulalip to mark the signing of the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott, remembering a time of worry and great change.
A leader through change
Shelton, who was born at Sandy Point on Whidbey Island, left home at 17 to attend the mission school at Tulalip. His parents did not want him to go, fearing he would die, as many children at the school had from illness. He went anyway.
He learned English and became a bridge between worlds. His ability to communicate in both English and his Native dialects was crucial to preserving language. Shelton worked with noted linguist Herman Haeberlin in studying and recording Salish languages.
In 1902, the federal government opened the Tulalip Indian Boarding School on the reservation in an effort to enforce assimilation policies. Children were removed from their families, from their culture. The same thing happened in the mission schools for 45 years prior. All things Indian were prohibited to the students. Shelton’s daughter, Harriette, attended this school and later in life described the sting of the strap when she was caught talking in her native language.
Photo by J.A. Juleen, provided by Everett Public Library. Members of the Tulalip tribe dine in the new longhouse on the Treaty Day in the 1914 photo.
A tricky compromise
To Shelton, the new government-run school presented an opportunity — albeit a circuitous route to save his heritage.
Shelton began by asking permission for the seemingly impossible. He sought to have a longhouse built on the reservation where sanctioned Indian dancing could take place. Repeatedly between 1908 and 1910, Shelton’s requests were denied by the Tulalip superintendent, Charles Buchanan, who as the local federal authority said that such customs were “blatantly at odds with Department of Interior regulations,” according to official correspondence.
In 1911, Buchanan tired of dealing with Shelton and told him to write letters outlining his requests to the secretary of the interior, as well as the commissioner of Indian affairs, the local agent’s superiors.
Shelton wrote them, asking for permission to build a gathering house for the people at Tulalip. He asked for one day a year when the people could come together and sing the old songs. He asked to allow the children from the Tulalip Boarding School to be brought into the longhouse.
Shelton proposed all this under the ruse of celebrating the 57th anniversary of the signing of the treaty on Jan. 22, 1855. The celebrations were to mark the start of their new way of life on the reservation, he said. Shelton wrote that the day would also be an opportunity to show children how poor and primitive the old ways were. In other words, he told authorities what they wanted to hear while masking his true intentions.
“He wanted the children to be reminded of who they were, the culture they come from,” Williams said.
Shelton’s requests were approved.
Photo by J.A. Juleen, provided by Everett Public Library. Tulalip Longhouse exterior, circa 1914. William Shelton stands with and two associates who assisted in construction of the building.
Shelton wanted the tribes to be proud of their heritage in uncertain times.
It was Shelton saying: “You have to not be afraid to say ‘I’m an Indian, dammit,’” Dilgard said. “That is what Treaty Days was all about.”
Photo courtesy Everett Public Library. This photo taken to commemorate the Mukilteo Treaty Monument Dedication was taken on May 2, 1931, by photographer James C. Bailey. Wayne Williams is the small boy on the far right of the photo standing in a headdress.
A lifetime of memories
In a black-and-white photograph, taken in Mukilteo in early May 1931, there is a little boy in the front row wearing a grimace and Plains Indian feathered headdress. He’s surrounded by dignitaries, including Gov. Roland Hartley, U.S. Sen. Wesley Jones and even Kate Stevens Bates, the daughter of territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens. It was Stevens who led the treaty negotiations in 1855. Also in the crowd were state lawmakers, members of the Daughters of the American Revolution, a boy in a tricorn hat and pantaloons and a Colonial era-clad girl in petticoats, lace and a wig.
The little boy, barely 3, appears uncomfortable amid the fanfare of the event, the unveiling of a bronze and granite marker commemorating the signing of the Point Elliott Treaty. More than 3,000 people gathered for the dedication, including three tribal members who were present the day the treaty was signed 76 years earlier.
Next to the child is his mother, Harriette Shelton Dover. Behind her is the boy’s grandfather, William Shelton. All wore the Plains attire, likely gifts worn to distinguish their status, though not reflecting their local roots.
Today that little boy in the photo is 87. His hair and beard have turned white, but his mind is sharp. Wayne Williams paid a visit to the Hibulb Cultural Center at Tulalip the other day, whistling as he reminisced about his grandfather, his mother and a lifetime of Treaty Days.
“We went every year,” Williams said. “In the early days, we slept in the longhouse during Treaty Days. The fires were warm. Early in the morning, maybe around 4 a.m. or so, someone would get things going, and they would start to sing and dance. Then part way through, speakers would talk about the day and what it meant. For our people and our way of life, it was always changing.”
Photo by J.A. Juleen, provided by Everett Public Library. The Tulalip Longhouse interior January 1914, during Treaty Day commemoration of the 59th anniversary of the Point Elliott Treaty signing. Tribal members are playing the stick game slehal, which is still played at reservation gatherings.
Neither Moses nor Williams speak Lushootseed, one of the lingering effects of the boarding school.
“I can understand it, and I know a few words, but I can’t speak it,” Williams said.
Today, the language is being preserved, recorded and taught to younger generations.
Historically, Treaty Days was a place to remember the language, and the culture. It also was a place to remember the treaty and what it means.
Thursday will mark the 160th anniversary of the treaty signing. It is a fairly short document — 15 articles, in all. There are 100 signatures on the treaty. Eighty-two, those belonging to Indian leaders, are simple Xs.
The government wanted land; the tribes, to preserve their way of life.
Photo courtesy of the Everett Public Library. Tulalip Longhouse Interior January 1914, at the Treaty Days commemoration. Posts inside the longhouse were ornamented by William Shelton with clan and family symbols.
Kyle Moses, who at 28 is chairman of the Longhouse Committee, oversees Treaty Days preparations. The cultural leaders keep the gathering alive, understanding that they cannot know where they are going without knowing where they have been.
“It is important to remember the history,” Moses said. “We are still here. Our culture is still here. We are reminded of our ancestors and how they had to fight for what we have today.”
Treaty Days began as a means to preserve the culture and traditions. Now the emphasis is on exercising sovereignty and treaty-protected rights, comprehending what that means and understanding the need to continue to pass those values on to future generations.
“It is important to remember what was promised,” Moses said.