Security guard Jakeb Conway leans forward to read a piece of history on the Treaty of Point Elliott at the Hibulb Cultural Center. The large glass-covered case displays the signed documents for reading. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Security guard Jakeb Conway leans forward to read a piece of history on the Treaty of Point Elliott at the Hibulb Cultural Center. The large glass-covered case displays the signed documents for reading. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Point Elliott Treaty returns to tribes here, 165 years later

Signed in 1855 at Mukilteo, it created reservations and secured Native American rights to traditions.

TULALIP — Their ancestors had signed it generations before.

About 150 tribal members gathered to inspect the Treaty of Point Elliott in January, on the anniversary of its creation.

Nearly all were seeing it for the first time.

After 165 years, the treaty has returned to the land where it was signed. It’s now on display at the Hibulb Cultural Center on the Tulalip Indian Reservation, one of the reservations established by the treaty.

On Jan. 22, 1855, thousands were drawn to the shores of what is now Mukilteo to witness the signing of the Treaty of Point Elliott. Today it’s considered one of the most important documents to Native American tribes around the Puget Sound.

It secured sovereignty for the tribes and gave them rights to land, education, health care, continuing traditional ways of life and more.

Yet so much, it turned out, was left to interpretation. Over the years some aspects of these agreements have been challenged in court, such as the landmark 1974 case known as the Boldt decision that guarantees the tribes half of all salmon and steelhead harvests.

The document is far from a fusty relic.

It is invoked today to bolster tribal arguments on many subjects, from greater environmental protections to patent rights on native trees, flowers and shrubs — the DNA of every plant that naturally grows here. Like the U.S. Constitution, the words written those many years ago are a framework for deciding issues the signatories never could have imagined.

Visitors to the Treaty of Point Elliott exhibit at Tulalip Tribes’ Hibulb Cultural Center will see the pages of signed documents displayed under glass. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Visitors to the Treaty of Point Elliott exhibit at Tulalip Tribes’ Hibulb Cultural Center will see the pages of signed documents displayed under glass. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

The treaty is part of the exhibit, “The Power of Words: A History of Tulalip Literacy.” It’s on loan from the National Archives in Washington, D.C. for six months.

Another part of the exhibit honors tribal elders who have become authors, including the late Stan Jones, Sr., whose daughter Teri Gobin has followed in his footsteps to lead the tribal government.

Jones died in November, and since then some of his research has been passed down to Gobin. It includes accounts from people who were at the signing on that winter day so long ago. Some said Tulalip was promised as a temporary reservation.

“Our reservation was supposed to be from Edmonds to the Stillaguamish River, from the water to the mountains,” Gobin said. “So you see how far it got pushed back to our little reservation of Tulalip. But we’re proud of our reservation, we’re proud of our tribe and we’re proud of what our ancestors stood up for, looking out for future generations.”

Several tribes signed the Treaty of Point Elliott, including the Duwamish, Suquamish, Lummi, Skagit and Swinomish.

Each has been invited to carry out their own ceremonies at the cultural center.

Others were from the Snohomish, Snoqualmie and Skykomish tribes, that joined to become the Tulalip Tribes.

One hundred signatures fill the final pages of the Treaty of Point Elliott — 82 are simple X marks, representing those from the tribes.

Before the treaty, native languages were never written, only spoken, Tulalip Tribes Vice Chairman Glen Gobin said.

“It didn’t mean we were illiterate,” he said. “We knew everything about the environment we lived in, we knew everything about the seasons as they come, we knew how to build homes, we knew how to build canoes.”

“We knew how to take care of each other,” Teri Gobin added.

After the signing, tribal leaders knew it was important to learn to read and write.

“Our elders even today say, ‘Go and get an education, go and learn, but never forget who you are and where you come from,’” Glen Gobin said. “’Bring your knowledge back and help your people.’”

Hibulb Cultural Center curator Tessa Campbell and assistant curator Emilie Miller started working on the project about a year and a half ago.

At first they only expected to celebrate authors from Tulalip. Once the pair started to read the writers’ books, they noticed each talked about literacy.

They decided to explore how the treaty brought literacy to Tulalip, through education and the need to fight for treaty rights.

“One of the goals is to promote literacy for younger generations so they can become the future authors to preserve our culture and history, to tell their story in their own words,” Campbell said.

Bringing the treaty to Tulalip was a long process. Campbell filled out 45 pages describing the museum — everything from the construction of the structure, to what kind of concrete was used, to how prepared the building would be for an earthquake, she said.

Inside the exhibit, the treaty is near the entrance. It’s kept in a wood and glass case, with humidity and temperature gauges inside. Each sheet is enclosed in its own glass frame.

Because the document is double sided, some of the 11 pieces of paper are photo copies. It’s hard to tell which are authentic, but a nearby sign makes it clear.

Each page has a tan tint and the ink seems to be dark brown, the flowing penmanship still crisp.

All 15 articles are handwritten in an impressive cursive script, usually only seen these days in history books.

In one column of signatures, the first three names to appear are Isaac Stevens, who was governor of the Territory of Washington; Chief Seattle of the Duwamish tribe; and Chief Pat-ka-nam of the Snohomish tribe. Some native names are followed by English ones, such as Jackson or Peter.

Chief Pat-ka-nam of the Snoqualmie and Snohomish tribes was one of the signatories of the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott, which confined the Indians to Tulalip and other Puget Sound reservations. (Everett Public Library)

Chief Pat-ka-nam of the Snoqualmie and Snohomish tribes was one of the signatories of the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott, which confined the Indians to Tulalip and other Puget Sound reservations. (Everett Public Library)

A few pages are stamped in the bottom right hand corner with a small, blue circle that reads, “The National Archives of the United States.”

There were two options to transport the treaty across the country, Campbell said. One had a $6,000 price tag and the driver made multiple stops.

Instead, the museum chose to move the treaty in its own armored vehicle with two drivers. They only stopped for gas and took turns sleeping. It cost $60,000.

For years Campbell and Miller have saved money by designing their own exhibits.

They had planned to put the extra cash toward something significant in the future, and this was it.

Along with that money, an anonymous donor in Everett recently gave the museum $50,000.

Before this trip, the treaty had never left the National Archives. It’s rare for these kinds of documents to leave the collection, said Eric Eberhard, an indigenous law professor at the University of Washington.

Isaac I. Stevens, ca. 1855. (Washington State Archives)

Isaac I. Stevens, ca. 1855. (Washington State Archives)

“There are 570 federally recognized tribes all over the country, and I’ve been working in Indian law for 50 years,” he said. “I’ve only seen the original treaties displayed outside of Washington (D.C.) twice.”

That’s likely because many reservations don’t have the resources to care for the irreplaceable documents, he said. That could change as more reservations open their own museums.

“It’s really great they’re able to bring it out here,” he said. “It’s completely different than looking at it in a book.”

Tulalip Tribes Councilman Les Parks grew up in Tulalip, and was first elected to office in 1996. He’s writing a book about his family’s lineage.

When Parks first saw the treaty in person the other week, he looked for the X mark of a Snohomish sub-chief who was given the English name Bonaparte.

By 1871, Bonaparte was the last living chief of more than a dozen who had signed the treaty. Parks has studied that man’s story, and it was significant for him to see where Bonaparte actually touched a pen to the paper.

“How good it felt to have these leaders who signed it in our presence,” Parks said.

He began to learn about the treaty through his family history. The book he’s writing now goes back seven generations, to one of his ancestors who would have been at the treaty signing. Because much of the tribes’ history from that time was not written down, he’s had to use his imagination for some parts.

Each year on the anniversary of the signing, the tribes celebrate Treaty Days. Parks sees it somewhat as a day of mourning.

“It’s the document that we gave everything up, but it’s also the document that allowed us to continue on with our culture and who we are today,” he said. “We use that document to ensure our culture and history lives on.”

Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192;; Twitter: @stephrdavey.

If you go

“The Power of Words: A History of Tulalip Literacy” is open to the public now. The Treaty of Point Elliott is on display until July, and the exhibit runs until December.

The Hibulb Cultural Center is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, at 6410 23rd Ave. NE, Tulalip.

Ticket prices vary. Find more information online at

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Snohomish residents Barbara Bailey, right, and Beth Jarvis sit on a gate atop a levee on Bailey’s property on Monday, May 13, 2024, at Bailey Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Bailey is concerned the expansion of nearby Harvey Field Airport will lead to levee failures during future flood events due to a reduction of space for floodwater to safely go. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Harvey Field seeks to reroute runway in floodplain, faces new pushback

Snohomish farmers and neighbors worry the project will be disruptive and worsen flooding. Ownership advised people to “read the science.”

IAM District 751 machinists join the picket line to support Boeing firefighters during their lockout from the company on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amid lockout, Boeing, union firefighters return to bargaining table

The firefighters and the planemaker held limited negotiations this week: They plan to meet again Monday, but a lockout continues.

Lynnwood woman sentenced for stabbing Bellingham woman while she slept

Johanna Paola Nonog, 23, was sentenced last week to nine years in prison for the July 2022 stabbing of a woman she’d recently met.

Granite Falls
Man presumed dead after fall into river near Granite Falls

Around 5 p.m. Sunday, the man fell off smooth rocks into the Stillaguamish River. Authorities searched for his body Monday.

Pilot found dead near Snoqualmie Pass after Arlington flight

Jerry Riedinger’s wife reported he never made it to his destination Sunday evening. Wreckage of his plane was found Monday afternoon.

Firefighters respond to a fire on Saturday morning in Lake Stevens. (Photo provided by Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue)
1 woman dead in house fire east of Lake Stevens

Firefighters responded to find a house “fully engulfed in flames” in the 600 block of Carlson Road early Saturday.

YMCA swim instructor Olivia Beatty smiles as Claire Lawson, 4, successfully swims on her own to the wall during Swim-a-palooza, a free swim lesson session, at Mill Creek Family YMCA on Saturday, May 18, 2024 in Mill Creek, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Splish splash! YMCA hosts free swim lessons around Snohomish County

The Y is building a “whole community” of water safety. On Saturday, kids got to dip their toes in the water as the first step on that journey.

2 injured in Bothell Everett Highway crash

The highway was briefly reduced to one northbound lane while police investigated the three-car crash Saturday afternoon.

Heavy traffic northbound on 1-5 in Everett, Washington on August 31, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
On I-5 in Everett, traffic nightmare is reminder we’re ‘very vulnerable’

After a police shooting shut down the freeway, commutes turned into all-night affairs. It was just a hint of what could be in a widespread disaster.

The Eternal Flame monument burns in the center of the Snohomish County Campus on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Elected officials to get 10% pay bump, or more, in Snohomish County

Sheriff Susanna Johnson will see the highest raise, because she was paid less than 10 of her own staff members.

Anthony Brock performs at Artisans PNW during the first day of the Fisherman’s Village Music Fest on Thursday, May 16, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
At downtown Everett musical festival: ‘Be weird and dance with us’

In its first night, Fisherman’s Village brought together people who “might not normally be in the same room together” — with big acts still to come.

Two troopers place a photo of slain Washington State Patrol trooper Chris Gadd outside District 7 Headquarters about twelve hours after Gadd was struck and killed on southbound I-5 about a mile from the headquarters on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Judge reduces bail for driver accused of killing Marysville trooper

After hearing from Raul Benitez Santana’s family, a judge decreased bail to $100,000. A deputy prosecutor said he was “very disappointed.”

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.