Tony Cladusbid, co-owner of the Beaver Tales Coffee franchise, works the Penn Cove Water Festival on Saturday. (Photo by Sam Fletcher)

Tony Cladusbid, co-owner of the Beaver Tales Coffee franchise, works the Penn Cove Water Festival on Saturday. (Photo by Sam Fletcher)

More than coffee: Swinomish Native shares family history and wisdom

Tony Cladusbid is the co-owner of Beaver Tales Coffee in Coupeville. He recently changed his name to honor his heritage.

OAK HARBOR — Tony Cladusbid, a La Conner resident and co-owner of the Beaver Tales Coffee franchise on his tribal lands in Oak Harbor and Coupeville, recently changed his name from Cladoosby to a closer match of the original Lushootseed spelling, ʔĺɫĺdusbĺʔ.

Cladusbid said the former spelling is a poor anglicization with hateful roots.

“The history that you seek about my name deals with time, location, event,” he said. “It could happen to anybody, and my family was made an example.”

In the 19th century, Cladusbid’s great-grandfather, who went by several names throughout his life, married a white woman. While legal, it was frowned upon, and local law enforcement murdered him.

“He ended up being hung,” Cladusbid said, “and the lawman ended up being judge, jury and executioner.”

Native people didn’t have last names in the European sense. They had given names and the place where they belonged. Upon his death, Cladusbid’s grandfather was assigned the name Cladoosby, as the settlers could pronounce it better.

Cladusbid started working young as a fisherman and, since, he’s been an auto mechanic, truck driver, heavy equipment operator, carpenter, electrician, plumber, road worker and 30-some other titles. For most, he was self-taught, and he credits that to his ancestors.

“Even for some things that I had never done in my life, it was like my hand had already done it somewhere, sometime, somehow,” he said, “and I believe that’s where déjà vu comes from.”

Whenever his family needed something built up or torn down, Cladusbid was the one to call. To him, the work was always easy.

“We carry that same energy, because time and place doesn’t have any boundaries,” he said. “Once we leave this shell, we go back home. We go back to where it’s normal.”

Cladusbid has many such feelings, he said. He always felt like he was born too late. While the Swinomish Tribe now has nearly 1,500 members, Cladusbid can recall when it had fewer than 300.

“In all reality, all I’m doing is just carrying the spirit of the ones that walked before me at the same time that I want to be a part of,” he said. “That’s who drives me, that’s who leads me, that’s who makes me move forward. It’s a strength that you gain.”

The southeast half of Fidalgo, the northeast corner of Whidbey and parts of the Skagit River delta are traditional Swinomish territories. The modern Swinomish Tribe is descended from the Swinomish, Kikiallus, Samish and Lower Skagit tribes.

Coupeville was once the site of one of the largest Lower Skagit villages in the Penn Cove area, an important winter village known as Bʒáʒale. It held one of their largest longhouses, 100 feet wide and 1,000 feet long, as well as eight others.

Photo courtesy of Island County Historical Society From time immemorial, the Lower Skagit People had permanent villages on the shores of Penn Cove.

Photo courtesy of Island County Historical Society From time immemorial, the Lower Skagit People had permanent villages on the shores of Penn Cove.

When reviewing history, it’s clear to Cladusbid the mission of European settlers was to wipe out Native cultures, he said.

“Policy is policy,” he said, “and the policy has always been to eliminate as many as possible. You see it in the bounties and in the wars, the so-called ‘wars,’ where it’s like taking a knife to a gunfight.”

In 1792, Lt. Joseph Whidbey moored near Penn Cove, believing it to be the mainland. The Skagit people they encountered were described as friendly.

We gave them food,” Cladusbid said. “We helped them survive the winter, one of the worst winters they ever had.”

“We laid down our arms and refused to take up arms against this government,” he continued, “and that’s one of the things that people don’t realize is that once we’ve laid down our arms, we don’t have to go to war anymore. We’re done. We don’t have to go to war for the United States. We can’t be drafted.”

Despite this, according to the U.S. military, Native people have the highest per-capita involvement of any population.

“It’s our land,” Cladusbid said. “Why would we quit fighting for it?”

Whidbey had been inhabited for at least 12,000 years before European settlement, Cladusbid said. The old cultures didn’t have poverty or homelessness, because there was no money.

“With no money, there was no riches,” he said, “and the wealth that we accumulated we gave away because it was frowned upon to have more than you needed.”

For 12,000 years, the land was tended for sustainably, he said.

“It wasn’t a dumping ground. It wasn’t a trash yard,” he said. “Everything was used. Everything had a purpose. Every person had a purpose. Everybody had responsibility, worth, value, not only as a person, but to the community.”

Land acknowledgments have become increasingly popular, said Cladusbid’s wife and Beaver Tales Coffee co-owner, Michelle. But a greater acknowledgment would be to honor the land with the old practices.

“If (people) took half the care that we did and start trying to think of what’s in the water, who’s in the water,” she said. “We aren’t doing it for us. We’re doing it for our children and our grandchildren.”

All stories told by Native communities revolve around where things come from and how things develop, with themes of taking care of those things, said Lou LaBombard, a Whidbey Islander and member of the Iroquois who studies and shares Indigenous legends. He often returns to a quote from Chief Seattle: “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors—we borrow it from our children.”

Storyteller Lou LaBombard stands before the Island County Historical Museum on Saturday. (Photo by Sam Fletcher)

Storyteller Lou LaBombard stands before the Island County Historical Museum on Saturday. (Photo by Sam Fletcher)

This sort of stewardship can be seen in the generational living of many Native families, Cladusbid said. The oldest continue to teach the youngest of a family throughout their lives.

Cladusbid is the fifth generation since the Treaty of Point Elliot, the land settlement agreement between the United States government and the tribes of the greater Puget Sound area.

“My job is to prepare the sixth generation and so they can prepare the seventh generation, and I did my job. I did what I was supposed to do,” he said.

Beaver Tales Coffee goes beyond serving drinks. The company builds spaces on traditional lands to preserve culture, foster partnerships and educate and empower the community.

At their new shop on the Coupeville Wharf, the Cladusbids hope to add to the historical photos on the wall. They wish to hang vibrant photos and art of current-day culture, canoe journeys, pow wow and everyday life.

Beaver Tales has an informal motto of “land back one coffee shop at a time.”

Serving coffee, for the Cladusbids, has always been a side gig.

“Our job is to think of the well-being of those coming behind us,” Cladusbid said. “It’s not to die with the most coffee beans. It’s to share my coffee.”

Sam Fletcher; sam.fletcher@whidbeynewsgroup.com

This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sibling publication to The Herald.

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