On May 27 and 28, 1933, members of the Lummi, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, Muckleshoot, Yakima, La Conner, and many other tribes gather in Juanita for a re-enactment of the signing of the 1855 Point Elliott Treaty between the Indians and the Territory of Washington. Thousands more gather to witness the event and to experience Native American culture first-hand. It is one of the largest cross-cultural Indian celebrations ever held in King County since the arrival of non-Native settlers in 1851.
Legionnaires and Indians
The Warren O. Grimm post of the American Legion in Kirkland sponsored the gathering, contacting tribal chiefs over a period of months. One of the first to accept was Chief Jerry Kanim of the Snoqualmie. In March 1933, he gathered many local tribes near Lake Sammamish to introduce other tribal chiefs to the Legionnaires. Members of each tribe performed special dances, such as the dance of the magic sticks and the dance of the magic boards, for the benefit of Legion members.
After accepting the invitations, the tribes were placed in charge of virtually the entire event while the Legionnaires handled logistics such as scheduling, ticket sales, and parking for visitors. It was agreed that the gathering would be profitable and of great benefit to both the Indians and the Kirkland community, and would provide Puget Sound residents with an insight into Indian culture.
Chief Jerry Kanim, along with Chief Black Thunder of the Skykomish tribe and a delegation of women from the Muckleshoot tribe, came to Kirkland to make arrangements. The beaches of Juanita Bay were ideal for the event: For generations of Native Americans, the bay had been a harvesting site for wapato (a marshland tuber). By 1933, the beach had been developed as a picnic and camping area with room enough for the thousands expected to attend.
The re-enactment of the treaty signing would be the keynote event of the weekend. Joseph Hillaire, son of the Lummi chief who signed the treaty in 1853, gathered information on what happened prior to and at the original signing. Governor Clarence Martin was invited, and accepted the offer to play the role of Governor Isaac Stevens, who signed the treaty for the territory of Washington. Chief Jerry Kanim would assume the role of his uncle, Chief Patkanim, another signer. Direct descendants of other co-signers would also assume the role of their ancestors.
The event received a wealth of publicity. The La Conner tribe loaned two big racing canoes for display in Seattle storefronts. Joseph Hillaire went on a speaking tour, appearing in authentic dress before civic organizations and school groups, telling the history of the treaty and of Indian culture. Martin Samson, president of the Northwest Federation of Indians, made radio appearances to urge everyone to attend.
Clean Up and Paint Up
Kirkland girded for the coming influx of people. For any small town during the depression, throngs of visitors (and their money) were a welcome sight. Even though Juanita was still considered a distant community in the eyes of most Kirkland businessmen, most visitors from Seattle would be taking the Lake Washington ferry, which dropped them off in downtown Kirkland.
Storefronts were decorated and parking zones were repainted. Editorials in the local paper urged citizens to make their town more like “Glossyville,” instead of “Shabbytown.” Even the polluted stream running through downtown Kirkland (an eyesore for many years) was cleaned up. As the local newspaper described it, “The things they found in that stream! Everything from soup to nuts and lots of it!”
A Gathering of Cultures
The last weekend in May arrived under a canopy of clear blue skies. The warm, sunny weather brought in more crowds than expected. More than 400 Indians encamped on the beaches of Juanita Bay in tepees and tents. Wearing colorful tribal dress, they mingled amongst and conversed with the thousands of visitors. A variety of Indian relics were on display throughout the grounds for all to see.
Canoe races, held each afternoon by members of the Swinomish, La Conner, Skagit, and other tribes, were the big excitement in the daytime. The first canoe race was followed by a hurdle race and then by single paddle races. The final event, which captivated the most spectators, was the 50-foot, eleven-paddle war canoe race. Canoes of this size and speed were a rare sight on Lake Washington.
Back on shore, more than a thousand pounds of salmon were prepared and feasted upon. Tribal members demonstrated Indian games, and, as evening wore on, performed tribal dances, “most of which,” exclaimed the local paper, “have never been seen by any large group of white people before.” On Saturday night, in an arena built by the Legion to hold 2500 people, historical presentations were given about the events leading up to the signing of the treaty.
The Treaty is Signed, Again
On Sunday, following that afternoon’s canoe races, Governor Martin received a special honor by being inducted into the Lummi tribe. Following an impressive ceremony of drumbeats and chants, tribal leader Joseph Hillaire accepted him into the fold. Hillaire delivered a stirring speech, calling Martin a protector “like the tall cedars that used to guard our tepees in the woods.” Martin thanked them deeply for the honor, and promised to do all in his power to preserve their rights under the now 78-year-old treaty.
The sun started to set in the west. The skies reddened and cast a glow over the enormous crowd as the re-enactment pageant began. Chief Jerry Kanim and members of the Snoqualmie tribe staged a presentation depicting the medicine men crossing over into the spirit country. Chief Shelton of the Snohomish tribe gave a welcome speech, after which he and his daughter introduced dancers from their tribe. Chief Tannishua of the Yakimas did the same. Other tribal leaders followed suit, including Black Thunder of the Skykomish, Mary Starr of the Lost Rainier, and Ennick of the Darrington.
The re-enactment ceremony, written by Joseph Hillaire, brought a hush to the crowd. Many of the prominent Indians present portrayed their ancestors, while members of the American Legion filled in as Governor Stevens’ entourage. To accommodate the thousands of attendees, the Legionnaires had installed lighting effects and a loudspeaker system so that all present could see and hear clearly. The audience was spellbound.
An Echo of Tribal Drums
After the re-enactment, tribal dances continued well into the night. A kaleidoscope of firelight and artificial light danced across faces, trees, and tepees. The smell of cooked salmon hung in the air. The echo of tribal drums and singing voices resonated along the hillsides of Juanita.
It was an echo in time that would rarely be heard again.