That the culture and identity of the people of the Tulalip Tribes survived the allotment era, the boarding school era and the termination era is a testament to the strength of that culture and identity. Inherent rights, gifts from the Creator, could not and would not be yielded to the powerful forces of assimilation.
Today, the Tulalip Tribes is a strong, influential Indigenous Nation – one of the largest sources of jobs in its region and a political force to be reckoned with.
“The Tulalip Tribes are a proud and rich people, always aware of the great sense of family and reverence for our elders,” Tulalip Tribes board member Les Parks wrote in the book, “A Community of New Ideas” (2005, Wyndham Publications). “Reviving our rich history and culture back after nearly losing it has become of utmost importance to today’s leaders. … Our past leaders forged a path for us and today we are a prosperous people, thanks to their great wisdom.”
Here are 10 things you need to know about the Tulalip Tribes.
A “spectacular, beautiful place.” Tulalip – dxwlilap – means deep inlet or nearly land-locked bay, according to former chairman Stanley G. Jones Sr. “Tulalip is a spectacular, beautiful sheltered bay on the eastern shore of Washington’s Puget Sound. Our people realized this and chose this bay as their homeland thousands of years ago,” he wrote in his 2010 book, Our Way – Hoy yud dud.
“Our people were very fortunate to live by the water, as there was an abundance of shellfish, crabs, clams, salmon and other fish … The land supplied deer, elk, ducks, geese, berries and roots. Many families had gardens to provide different foods, one of which was an onion-like bulb called Camas.”
It was here that a reservation was established for people of the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish and allied bands that signed the Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855. Together, they became the Tulalip Tribes, a single indigenous nation.
In the treaty, the indigenous signers also reserved the right to fish in their usual and accustomed areas, and to hunt and gather on all open and unclaimed lands. After many years of litigation with the state of Washington, the court’s decision in U.S. v. Washington (1974) upheld the tribes’ inherent right to fish and hunt in these areas and also established the treaty tribes’ right to co-manage these resources with the state of Washington.
The Tulalip reservation is 22,567 acres, or 35.3 square miles – slightly larger than the Caribbean country of Anguilla and almost the size of Montserrat. However, the Tulalip Tribes’ historical territory is 589,013 acres, or 9,123 square miles (Source: Rights Remembered, by Pauline Hillaire, University of Nebraska Press, 2016). That’s an area larger than Belize, El Salvador or Israel. The Tulalip reservation is the fifth-largest in Washington state, after Colville, Yakama, Makah and Quinault.
Location, location, location. Interstate 5, a north-south highway that stretches from Canada to Mexico, passes along the eastern boundary of the Tulalip reservation.
Because of the vision of past leadership, that land became the site of Quil Ceda Village, a 2,000-acre tribally-chartered city. Named for the creek that flows across it, the Village quickly evolved into an economic juggernaut in the region. Tulalip and its leadership moved forward and developed a tribal economy called the Consolidated Borough of Quil Ceda Village, bringing in non-Indian businesses. The Village is comprised of approximately 2,000 acres of land on the Tulalip Reservation held in trust by the United States for the tribes’ benefit. The casino-resort, with its Coast Salish-influenced amenities, sits in the center of the Village. The Village is home to national retailers such as Wal-Mart, Cabela’s, Simon Premium Outlets; in total, more than 150 individual business tenants.
Some results of the Tulalip Tribes’ prosperity: Tulalip Tribes is one of the largest employers in Snohomish County. Tribal citizens who want to go to college are provided funding from the tribes’ education department. The tribes’ infrastructure investments, within the reservation and Quil Ceda Village, include water, wastewater, roads, Interstate 5 interchanges, and the recent addition of a major water pipeline that will meet the reservation’s fresh-water needs for the next 100 years. The Tulalip Tribes has its own telecommunications infrastructure and is able to provide phone, cable, and Internet services to all locations and homes within the reservation.
State Sen. John McCoy, a citizen of the Tulalip Tribes, said he checked out a book from Hibulb Cultural Center and was surprised to see that an economic center at what is now Quil Ceda Village was envisioned by leaders in the 1920 and ’30s. “Way back then, they knew that something would happen in the Northeast corner of the reservation,” he said. “They didn’t know what it would be, but that it would be” – using the terminology of the day – “a big trading post.”
Tribally chartered city. Quil Ceda Village was incorporated in 2001 under the laws of the Tulalip Tribes – and recognized as a municipality by the federal government – to strengthen and diversify the Tulalip Tribes’ economy, create employment, and provide essential governmental infrastructure and services for Village tenants and visitors. The BIA recognizes the Village as a municipality and the IRS recognizes the Village as a political subdivision, for purposes of issuing bonds, under provisions of the Indian Tribal Governmental Tax Status Act of 1982, according to Francesca Hillery, public affairs officer of the Tulalip Tribes.
Pursuant to its charter, the Village is governed by an elected three-member council which conducts official business on the third Tuesday of each month. Administration includes a village manager, village clerk, and village attorney. According to the Village website, public services and economic development fall under the purview of 15 departments.
A political and economic force. The Tulalip reservation has been a proving ground on several significant issues. Tulalip police officers possess Washington state peace officer authority, which means they can arrest non-Indians under state law and cite them criminally into state courts. Also, the Village, the tribes, and the federal government are suing the State of Washington and Snohomish County, alleging state and county taxation of business on Indian land preempts the tribes from collecting its own taxes to support local public services.
John McCoy, a state senator and citizen of the Tulalip Tribes, is the author of legislation that requires the teaching of Native American history as part of public schools’ history curriculum. Deborah Parker, a former vice chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes, helped lead the expansion of the Violence Against Women Act, giving Native Nations authority to prosecute anyone – Native and non-Native – who commits a violent act against a woman in Indian country.
Even when taking on contentious issues, leaders prefer negotiation before litigation. But they won’t give up on what they know is right. “We’ve met with governors, the attorney general, we’ve done due diligence in our work in government affairs to try to build bridges,” Parker said. “So, we don’t spend a lot of time looking back wondering what we didn’t do right.”
McCoy added, “We have always tried negotiation before lawsuit. We want to find common ground but will go to court as a last resort.”
A strong culture. “Maintaining our culture and identity as Coast Salish people is at the heart of our people,” Tulalip Tribes Chairwoman Marie Zackuse said.
Today, the Tulalip Tribes Lushootseed Department is working to restore the Lushootseed language to everyday use within the community. The language is taught at the Betty Taylor Early Learning Academy for children up to 5 years old, and the language department hosts a Family Night where parents and children can speak the language together.
The Longhouse culture continues to be an important part of community life, and the longhouse on Tulalip Bay is a gathering place where ceremonies take place and knowledge – songs, stories, histories and teachings – is passed down. The late William Shelton (1868–1938) told of the importance of the longhouse. “They told me stories which would create in me the desire to become brave and good and strong, to become a good speaker, a good leader,” he said. “They taught me to honor old people and always do all in my power to help them.”
Harriette Shelton Dover, William Shelton’s daughter, helped bring back the First Salmon Ceremony in 1976, and every year since then the Tulalip Tribes community has honored the first salmon of the year with a longhouse ceremony.
Another tradition: “At one time, many of the families in Tulalip would spend the summer down on a beach we call Spee-bi-dah,” Zackuse said. “We would fish and preserve it all summer and it was an opportunity to share stories and be together like our ancestors once lived. Today, we spend one day in the summer down on Spee-bi-dah to remember those times and to give the youth and children a sense of what our childhoods were like.”
A strong artistic tradition. The Tulalip Tribes established the Tulalip Design Center as a center for the creation of great works of art that help tell the Tulalip Tribes story.
Head carvers Joe Gobin and James Madison and their apprentices design, carve, and install public art. They also make cultural items that are given away at special events.
Their works leave an unforgettable impression. Among those works: Three 24-foot story poles in the Tulalip Resort Casino’s lobby; a nine-foot welcome figure, depicting a grandmother holding a cedar basket full of clams, in the Hibulb Cultural Center; welcome figures depicting canoe pullers holding paddles, and a mural made of large panels of sandblasted and fused glass, in the cultural center’s Canoe Hall.
In a May 2016 documentary, Madison told KCTS 9 that, for Coast Salish people whose history was passed down orally, artwork is a history book. “We put the information of our people, our family, our lineage on the artwork,” he said.
Sharing the teachings. The Hibulb Cultural Center and Preserve is the result of a longstanding dream of elders to have a cultural center where Tulalip Tribes people can learn about their culture, and to also share the Tulalip Tribes story with the region.
The center, which opened in 2013, is approximately 23,000 square feet with a 50-acre natural history preserve. The interactive cultural center features a main exhibit, a temporary exhibit, two classrooms, a long house, a research library, and gift shop.
“The interactive displays introduce you to the legacy of the Tulalip people by giving you a historic perspective of the bands that make up the Tulalip Tribes, with stories told in Lushootseed and English,” the cultural center website states. “The center also features a fully certified collections and archaeological repository.”
Permanent exhibits include Warriors: We Remember, honoring defenders of the nation as well as defenders of the culture; the Canoe Hall, which tells the story of the people’s connection to the rivers and sea in their territory; and a reproduction of a longhouse, in which visitors can hear recorded stories told by gifted storytellers.
Protecting the land. “We are very proud of our efforts to protect our treaties, our salmon, and traditional way of life via our Natural Resources Department,” Zackuse said.
The Natural Resources Department oversees salmon restoration, wetlands protection, invasive plant removal, habitat monitoring and research, air and water quality, and timber, fish, and wildlife. “We are not only helping to maintain these rights and resources, but our efforts also help the surrounding region,” Zackuse said.
One significant regional project: restoration of the Qwuloolt Estuary, located within the Snohomish River floodplain, approximately three miles upstream from its outlet to Puget Sound and within the city limits of neighboring Marysville.
“We worked with partners over many years to restore nearly 400 acres of juvenile salmon habitat by breaching a levy and flooding the area. We believe this will improve our wild runs and provide habitat for other species,” Zackuse said.
According to the tribes’ website, historically, the project area was tidal marsh and forest shrub habitat, interlaced by tidal channels, mudflats and streams. For more than a hundred years, the project area had been cut off from the natural influences of the Snohomish River and Salish Sea tides by levees, drained by ditches instead of stream channels, and characterized by a monoculture of invasive reed canary grass instead of native shrubs and grasses.
Since the levee breach on August 28, 2015, the historic and natural influences of the river and tides have returned to the Qwuloolt.
Staying true to the vision. “One step at a time and good careful choices of businesses [have] contributed to our success.” That’s what Jones, the former chairman, wrote in his book about the reason for the success of Quil Ceda Village.
That same patience, and staying true to the vision and values of past leaders, accounts for the Tulalip Tribes’ success in many areas. McCoy, the state senator, said he was reading a book he checked out from the Hibulb Cultural Center and found in one of the chapters that Tulalip Tribes leaders as early as 1900-1912 were lobbying the federal government for self-government and self-determination – three decades before the Indian Reorganization Act. Tulalip Tribes leaders were ahead of their time, and succeeding leaders never gave up on that vision.
“Our leaders have always done a real good job of listening to the elders and maintaining the vision,” McCoy said.
Notable Tulalip Tribes citizens
Wha-cah-dub Chief William Shelton (1868-1938). Master carver. Built a longhouse on the Tulalip reservation in 1913, carved story poles that were raised at Tulalip and in Everett, Olympia, and in Freeport, Illinois. Served on the first Tulalip Tribes Board of Directors and as chief of police on several reservations. Author of The Story of the Totem Pole (Kessinger Publishing).
Hiahl-tsa Harriett Shelton Williams Dover (1904-1991). Daughter of William Shelton. Tulalip Tribes board member (1938-1951), Tribal Court judge, postmaster, newspaper essayist, author of Tulalip From My Heart (2013, University of Washington Press), an autobiography.
Stanley G. Jones Sr. (1926 - ). Tulalip Tribes board member from 1966-2010, chairman for 22 years. “Under his visionary leadership, the tribes were participants in testimony leading to the Boldt decision, and he was a strong leader in establishing the tribes in real estate and gaming, thus providing opportunities for tribal members,” according to an essay on HistoryLink.org. “At the same time, Jones helped to revive tribal history and culture, including the traditional Salmon Ceremony, the relearning of Lushootseed (the tribes' native language), the yearly Canoe Journey, and the establishment of the Hibulb Cultural Center.” By the time he left office, the Tulalip Tribes had 4,000 employees and was second only to Boeing as a jobs provider in Snohomish County.
James Russell Madison (1973-). Master carver. His major works include a 24-foot story pole in the lobby of the Tulalip Resort and Casino. His works can be seen in the Burke Museum, and in hospitals, parks and other public places in British Columbia, New York, and Washington state.
John McCoy (1943- ). Former manager of Quil Ceda Village; member of the state House of Representatives, 2004-13; member of state Senate, 2013-present; author of several laws related to education and tribal sovereignty.
Deborah Parker (1970- ). Former vice chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes; leading advocate for expansion of the Violence Against Women Act to include protections for Native American women; appointed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, to the 2016 Democratic National Convention’s Platform Committee.
Edith J. Parks (1903-1982). First woman elected to the Tulalip Tribes’ Board of Directors (1937); she served as board secretary and certified the Tulalip Tribes’ amended constitution of 1948. Her grandson and great-grandson are Tulalip Tribes board members.
Melvin R. Sheldon Jr. (1951- ). Member of the Tulalip Tribes Board of Directors for more than 16 years, eight of those as chairman. U.S. Army helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War; his helmet, struck by an enemy bullet, saved his life and can be seen at the Hibulb Cultural Center in Quil Ceda Village.
Marie Zackuse (1948-). First elected chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes, member of the Board of Directors for 24 years. She served as president of the Quil Ceda Village Council and for many years chaired the board’s Services Committee, which is responsible for education, health, social services and other “people programs.”