Who Does The Land Belong To?

There is a movement right now to give land honoring statements at the start of invocations to honor the First Nations People who once claimed the land as their home territory. Maps like the one pictured above are usually referenced to help people find out who once lived where they are now. In checking this map, I’ve marked where EEC Forest Stewardship land is, and noted that the two closest tribes- Duwamish and Snoqualmie, did not roam on the ridge line where I now live. The light green color that does stretch across quite a bit of the map, including EEC, is labeled “Coastal Salish”. Salish is an anglicization European colonizers gave to all the “Indians” in the area after first contact with one group of Séliš, the first people to have diplomatic relations with colonizers. It was then used as a broad term for linguistic research. There is no specific “Coastal Salish” tribe.

Euro-centric thinking requires that maps of clearly labeled “territories” show us where settlement occur, both before colonization, and after. It’s the same thinking that puts everyone and everything into a neat little box with properly measured constraints and titles. It cannot show us the actual migration routs, seasonal villages, and tribal larders, which were tended and harvested across the globe before colonial mapping. Archeology in my area shows that First Nations People thrived along the coast, and inland along the major rivers, where salmon were plentiful. They had no reason to hike though the dense forest up onto ridge lines where there were no fish or navigable waters to canoe. EEC is located in a place that was not part of any tribal settlement, food source, or ceremonial space. It was the home to Wapiti, Black-tail Deer, and Salmon fry- which would later return to the larger Snoqualmie River below to feed the people.

Before 1855, with The Treaty of Point Elliott, no people were wandering the space where EEC stands today. Soon after the treaty, loggers came into The Snoqualmie Valley and began clear cutting the forests to make way for settlers. Duvall, the township this land is affiliated with, was not incorporated until 1912. By then, The Tribes had been relocated onto reservations, the elk hunted to the brink of extinction, and the salmon harvested by industrious European colonizers who cared nothing for keeping any natural covenant with the land or its flora and fauna. A large timber company called Weyerhaeuser was founded in 1904, and quickly purchased forests across Washington State, from The Great Northern Railway. The railway, working with government agencies pushing westward expansion, took land once acknowledged in earlier treaties as “Indian Territory”, and gave it to settlers eager to homestead.

These images of white settlers coming in and taking the aggregated land once stewarded and lived on by First Nations People, is the gist of asking, “who once inhabited the land you now live on?”. Certainly, the timber industry that first pillaged the native forest on this ridge line was destroying virgin growth and incredible habitat that sustained the wildlife and plants, which supported the humans living in this area. The closest well established village of First Nations People to EEC, was in the current town of Carnation, once the town of Tolt, on the confluence of the Tolt and Snoqualmie Rivers. The tribe named for the dominate river in the valley, The Snoqualmie, had a great salmon harvesting camp there, and established year round habitation. When the fish were not spawning, the elk and deer were still plentiful. There are also oral stories passed down from local tribes people of the camas fields, which once thrived in the Snoqualmie River Valley. Now all that bounty is lost, along with the understanding of how people are meant to be stewards of the land.

At EEC Forest Stewardship, we hold back on fantasizing about a complete return to virgin forest, but instead work on the restoration of abundance within the ecosystem left after over a century of degradation. The stream that once hosted millions of salmon and trout spawn, can still host the fish, and sculpins, and endangered fresh water mussels, though only a shadow of what they once were. The creek has been designated as a protected salmanoid stream, preventing future development and destruction of vegetation along its banks. We’ve enhanced the stream buffer with native replanting, to help establish new wildlife corridors through the now fenced patchwork of parcels the land has been segmented into for private ownership. No more elk wander these ridge lines, but they are close, in the nearby valley where The Snoqualmie Tribe once lived, a resident herd is protected. The land here will never be what it was, but it can become a forest again, adapting with human caused climate change to produce tree species that are more able to cope with droughts and hot temperatures now appearing on the record books in 2021.

Regardless of human impact, the land remains a living ecosystem that humans are a part of, but cannot own, no matter how much we attempt to subjugate. The continued colonization of this earth will only end in our destruction, as long as we keep endorsing a mindset of ownership and dominion. The land is not for us to use, but a place to connect, steward, to listen and learn from. We are lucky here in The Pacific Northwest, where the land is still lush and fertile, capable of supporting such a wealth of diversity and abundance. The question of who owns a place can easily be answered today with written deeds and legal demarcations on a map, but the soul of a place, its living ecology, cannot be boxed up or listed on a piece of paper. This sort of short sighted thinking has only lead us down a path of limitations and permanent displacement of our own kind. Humankind has original instructions to be caretakers of the land, and until we return to this mindset, the true natives of this place- Western Red Cedar, Salmon, Bald Eagle, Garter Snake, and the other wild things that make up our planet, will continue to follow their original instruction, laid out thousands of years before humans stepped onto the world stage. It is this wildness, which the land will forever belong to.

2 thoughts on “Who Does The Land Belong To?”

  1. What have you done to mitigate your privilege? What have you done for the community (poetry does not count, it is just another example of your, self-centered, privilege)? Why not give this land back to the community? No, you just want to virtue signal. This makes you a creepy poser. You are as fake as the rest and nobody cares about your poorly written thoughts. Please do not participate in our events anymore! Deborah.

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    1. Hello Deborah, thanks for sharing your grief and asking good questions. I hope some of these reflections help to expand understanding. Your suggestion to give the land back to the community is the slated plan for this land. It’s development rights have been sold and its in open space (PBRS) with a 60 year plan to return to native forest, and most likely, a public park. There is a lot more on this in other posts, and I encourage you to read more. In the mean time, during the transition, it’s a place of learning, habitation, and information resource to anyone wishing to connect to land, learn, and share. Please email me directly for more information and opportunities.

      I’m so out of touch with the modern lingo- “virtue signal” will need definition for me to better understand. When we are angry, we tend to lash out, and I’m open to seeking condolences with you regarding any triggers this post might have caused. That’s a great way to give back in community we share- face to face connection and understanding.

      The last part of your comment, about “do not participate in our events” is the most puzzling to me. The only wording I can reach back into regarding this post that might make any sense, is the reference to land acknowledgment, which is happening globally- in communities seeking awareness of land history and use. I’ve recently been at a few in Duvall, Seattle, and Online. No specific event was referenced in this post, but if you would like to clarify your distress, I’d be happy to listen.

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