Seeing Further

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.


Filed under Communications, Ethics and Morality, symbolism

29 responses to “Seeing Further

  1. Renters pay the landlord for the use of the property, with all the rights and responsibilities it entails and even the owner may not just drop in without notice. They pay taxes, for refuse collection, electricity etc and contribute to the local community too…
    These ignoramus Covenants must *surely* contravene current local, state and national laws when it comes peoples Rights?
    Excellent that a group of you have stood up against this exclusion, and I hope that the people who rent homes in your community may have the same rights as those who own homes as *soon* as possible,

    • I don’t know if they are illegal, not being a lawyer. Our objection is on moral, humanitarian grounds. Aside from barring them from “membership” in the club or access to club grounds, I think their rights to notice prior to inspection etc. are already intact.

  2. Speaking of Invisible Men:

  3. Mikey, your posts are just full of so many little tidbits of knowledge, and are becoming more and more enjoyable the more I learn about you as a person.

    I took Native American Literature last semester for my sophomore English requirement, and we talked a lot about interpreting the sentiments within texts that were supposedly spoken by a Native American but transcribed by whites.

    A good way to look at Chief Si’ahl’s supposed statement here is with an understanding of the attitudes of whites and Native Americans at the time. It’s likely Smith, being by nature a pompous white man who believed in the superiority of whites, heard Chief Si’ahl express a statement somewhat similar to that, and took it upon himself to “whiten-up” the prose.

    This certainly is known to have happened during that time, the most infamous case of it being John Rolfe’s writings on his exploits with Pocahontas and the rest of the Powhatan tribe, which are a big cluster**** of out-right lies and mangled truths. Which was why it was perfect for Disney.

    It’s funny how much more knowledgeable I am about Native American tribes from present day Virginia and the East Coast in general than the rest of the country. I don’t think I’ve ever even heard of the Duwamish people.

    • I suspect your view about the speech is likely, James. I was aware that kind of whitification went on, as well as outright lies. For example, one version of the speech has references to the iron horse (trains), though it is highly unlikely the Chief ever saw one. He died before the railroad reached his region.

      The Duwamish are now an endangered tribe small in numbers, and their legal situation isn’t helped by the fact the Feds have ruled them “extinct”, which they find understandably irritating. They were once the prominent component of the Salish peoples living around Lake Washington in what is now the city of Seattle, and they called themselves “the people of the inside.” Here’s a link:
      (I like being appreciated for being a generalist in terms of topics, btw –

  4. Love them! That is sort of what I used to be able to see in my childhood, every day. I’ll have to pop back to read, just wanted to see the mountains before I head to work!

  5. Informative post, thank you.
    For me, the most profound statement is the last line :
    “It has no word for the concept of exclusion”.

    Yes! Love it!

  6. Mikey,
    Another one of my favorite kind of post from you (or from anyone), where the “point” sort of sneaks up on you. I thought when I first saw the title and photo that you were writing about looking out your window and seeing mountains. Well, you were and you weren’t. I share your stance on the issue of whether or not Sealth actually said this. Who cares. It got said, and it needed to be said. I remember a life-changing moment when my pastor said of the Johah and the Whale story in the Bible, “it doesn’t matter if this actually happened or not. In fact, if it is a myth, then it becomes even more important to pay attention to every single word of it and hear the heart of God in it…” On the other hand, there will always be people — the majority, actually — who wish to get the conversation sidetracked into the quagmire of facts and blind themselves to truth, which facts often obfuscate. Thanks for this post. By the way, I love that photo for its triband composition alone. Beautiful!

    • Thanks, Matt. The photo was taken from my deck by my Brother’s partner Lori, and I edited and processed it for that triband effect. You totally “got” it. It’s like the subject of the post. You see one level, then there’s another and another. Just like the process of understanding, or the fact that global and local issues interconnect.

  7. Every time I come here I feel enlightened. Like I said before, I love the way you write.

    The next time I have a free half day, I plan to spend it reading your blog from beginning to end.

  8. 🙂 I thought B. would love you and vice versa.
    I bet the renters aren’t hurting for cash either, so why exclude ’em? Silly folks. Ultimate revenge is to drop the folks who go to our pool into the frontlines. Now that would be funny.

    • You’re right, Lisa. It’s just ignorance, a thing that seems never to be in short supply. Some of the Board members will be retiring this year and their successors might have better attitudes. We’ll have to take it step by step.

      • I hope you are standing for election to the board!

        • I’ll accept the compliment, but I’m afraid my temperament is not suited to politics and committees. Plus, it’s bad strategy. I haven’t even lived here a year. I have no cred with the dinosaur factions. There’s a talented man from my street we support who already has relationships of long standing throughout the power circles.

        • I understand your points. I’m not sure I have the temperament for committees either and they always seem to go hand-in-hand with politics. In your situation, cred is probably the most important aspect and you are so right – less that a year you are still an “outsider” yourself.

          Best of luck to the talented man!

  9. lifewith4cats

    Procedures, and covenents can always be adapted and changed, at least in business. It irks me when someone follows an outdated or unhelpfull practice while rigidly giving the excuse, “thats what we’ve always done.”

    Kudos to you for standing up for the renters.

  10. Having lived at the base of the Flatirons for four years I know what sort of healing and empowering the mountains are capable of. It’s interesting how much the idea of desire can empower those who already have it. Glad to see you all stuck up for the “little guys”. We can change this world, one mountainside neighborhood at a time.

  11. If I’ve learned one thing in my time living where I do, it’s that it takes a long time for the rigidity of established local societies to loosen up to the idea that they were wrong in the beginning. It can happen, with gentle persuasion, and a lot of convincing. I’ve also noticed that the convincing is easier for the establishment to swallow when it comes from us “experienced” folk, rather than from those 10-20 years younger. Good on you for pointing out the errors of their ways.

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