Tribe's Descendants Give Blessing to House Posts
SAN JUAN ISLAND, Wash. - When a set of Coast Salish house posts are
dedicated in a park overlooking Friday Harbor May 22, history will be made
- and credit given where credit's due.
They will be the first permanent public display recognizing the island's
indigenous heritage; the island was the traditional gathering, hunting and
fishing place of the Lummi, Saanich, Samish, Semiahmoo, Sooke and Swinomish
The house posts also pay tribute to the Mitchell Bay Band of Indians, which
lived on the island year-round but never received federal recognition
despite records showing a trading relationship with Britain's Hudson's Bay
Co., a 1919 census, profiles in state reports and history books, and
acknowledgement by other tribes and First Nations.
It was census-taker Charles Roblin of the U.S. Office of Indian Affairs who
first called the people the "Mitchell Bay Band," a reference to their home
at Mitchell Bay on San Juan Island. They called themselves "Klalakamish,"
after their village at Mitchell Bay. Anthropologist Wayne Suttles said
"Klalakamish" refers to their point-of-origin story. Roblin's census
counted about 250 people - about as many as the Songhees across Haro Strait
in Victoria, B.C.
The Samish believe the Mitchell Bay people are a remnant of the ancestral
tribe from which the above-mentioned tribes descended. The Swinomish Indian
Tribe adopted Mitchell Bay Band descendants as associate members, enabling
them to continue their tradition of reef-net fishing.
A moving moment came on March 20, when descendants of the Mitchell Bay Band
were asked for their blessing of the house posts during a private preview.
Musqueam artist Susan Point, who carved the house posts, wanted the
Mitchell Bay descendants' blessing before the posts go up.
It was a moment of honor for the band's descendants, but it was also
bittersweet. Despite the 1919 census population of 250 people, Mitchell Bay
Band descendants are now found mainly in a few families.
"We've always been shunned," said Rick Guard, a Mitchell Bay Band
descendant. "People have kind of spread through the winds. As a
non-recognized tribe, it's kind of hard to keep it going."
Mitchell Bay descendants are pleased that the posts will be erected in a
public place - the island's first public acknowledgement of the island's
"The islands were inhabited by Indians that lived here for centuries," said
Kelly Nash, a Mitchell Bay Band descendant. "These poles will help make
people more respectful of that."
The house posts, titled "Interaction," tell of the relationship between
people, marine life and the environment. "Interaction" will be dedicated
May 22 as part of the month-long "San Juan Island Orca Fest: A Celebration
of Water and Wildlife." Orca Fest is a series of weekend events in May
coordinated by the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau.
The house posts were purchased by the Portals of Welcome Committee, which
raised $60,000 over two years for their purchase. The group also worked
with town and port governments for permits and space for the posts. In
addition, the Town of Friday Harbor also donated $15,000 in tourism
promotion funds toward the purchase.