When I look out my windows, I can see a mountain range. These peaks rise majestically out of the Pacific Ocean. They have been called by many names. The Duwamish people called them Sun-a-do. The Klallam, who lived 10,000 years ago where my town is now, gave them a name meaning “thunderbird”.
I’ve never lived in sight of mountains before. I’m trying to open myself to whatever kind of powers they hold. These mountains provide a wall between my home and incoming storms. This shields us like an umbrella, so that we get only half the precipitation of communities outside the rain shadow.
John Meares was a fur trader back in the 1780s when this region was first being explored and exploited. When Meares saw the mountain range from his ship, he thought it suitable for the dwellings of gods and named the highest peak Mount Olympus, after that previous one in Greece. There were subsequent campaigns to call them by other names, but public opinion and the Seattle Weekly Gazette spurred an official adoption of the name Olympic Mountains in 1864.
The first poisonous gift the “civilized” ones gave to the indigenous population was disease like smallpox and measles that they had no resistance against or treatment for. Nine out of ten died. The survivors were subjected to a long series of broken promises and attempts to outlaw their philosophy of redistributing wealth to the poorest in the tradition of Potlatch ceremonies. That’s where we get the word (and idea of) potluck. It was invented in this region. The world is fertile and full. None should go hungry. All should be welcome.
“This we know; The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know, all things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected.”
These are probably not the words of Chief Si’ahl of the Duwamish, for whom Seattle is named. A frontier physician and educator named Henry A. Smith said they were, in his recall of events from 35 years previous. The column was printed in the Seattle Sunday Star in 1887. It’s a powerful speech which has endured. It’s often quoted with slight variations in literature and films holding pro-Indian views. But nobody else recalled the speech as ever having happened. Witnesses at the time recorded other speeches attributed to the Chief, and none of those are like this one. However, others have corroborated the fact that Henry Smith was an accomplished writer and poet.
Some think that if the wise old Chief didn’t say it, that makes the sentiment itself less valid. I personally don’t care if Doc Smith did make it up. Out here in the West we like to say, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” If that’s not the way it happened, it’s still the way it ought to be.
I live in a so-called Private Community. There’s no gate or anything, but the neighborhood functions under a set of Covenants agreed to 50 years ago when the first homes were built. Some of the rules are odd, like not being able to build any dwelling structure worth less than $5,000 – as if anything you could live in could cost so little to build. Others are senselessly exclusive, like allowing renters to reside in the houses, but barring them from being members of the Club where the pool and gym are, or from walking on the beach.
Practically everyone is a renter somewhere before they can become an owner. These renters live in our community. They are our neighbors. It makes no sense to disallow them from being able to pay for access to social amenities. My street is full of accomplished, artsy types, so we are desirable as participants in an annual Revue given at the clubhouse. The Board of Trustees told us we couldn’t include any of the renters in our act, though they could (maybe) get tickets to the show as our guests. So, regretfully, we sent them a letter signed by 16 owners declining to perform because of the exclusion of our fellow residents.
The Board believes there’s nothing in the Covenants allowing us to amend them, so they paid a law firm to reassure them that yes, you can (anyone can) vote to amend rules that don’t conform to current law or to the wishes of current members by a 67% majority. Now we have to convince them that everyone who lives in a community is a member of the tribe, not just the richer ones.
The language of the Duwamish is called Lushootseed. There are now only 200 people who speak it. It has no word for the concept of exclusion.