Tulalip tribal member Wayne Williams was barely 3 and standing next to his mother, Harriette Shelton Dover, when this photo was taken in 1931 at an event in Mukilteo marking the 1855 signing of the Point Elliott treaty. The photo includes the daughter of Territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens, who led the negotiations with Northwest Indian tribes. Williams died earlier this month at the age of 89. (Photo taken by James Bailey and provided by Everett Public Libraries)

Tulalip tribal member Wayne Williams was barely 3 and standing next to his mother, Harriette Shelton Dover, when this photo was taken in 1931 at an event in Mukilteo marking the 1855 signing of the Point Elliott treaty. The photo includes the daughter of Territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens, who led the negotiations with Northwest Indian tribes. Williams died earlier this month at the age of 89. (Photo taken by James Bailey and provided by Everett Public Libraries)

Wayne Williams, 89: Steward of Tulalip culture and history

TULALIP — The boy, who’d just turned 3, appears uneasy, perhaps bewildered, by the hubbub around him.

A black-and-white photograph captures the moment. It was taken in May 1931 in Mukilteo at the unveiling of a bronze and granite marker commemorating the signing of the Point Elliott Treaty 76 years earlier.

The boy is wearing a Plains Indian feathered headdress. His mother, Harriette Shelton Dover, stands beside him. Behind her is her father and the boy’s grandfather, William Shelton, the last hereditary chief of the Snohomish Tribe. All wore the Plains attire, likely gifts worn to distinguish their status, though not reflecting their Coast Salish roots.

They are surrounded by dignitaries, including Gov. Roland Hartley, a U.S. senator and even Kate Stevens Bates, the daughter of territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens. It was Stevens who led the negotiations with Northwest Washington tribes that resulted in the treaty signing in Mukilteo in 1855.

The photo has appeared often in Snohomish County history circles. It is a curious assemblage of people: lawmakers, Daughters of the American Revolution, a boy in a tricorn hat and pantaloons and a Colonial era-clad girl in petticoats, lace and a wig.

History — and the books they wrote — document the great lengths Shelton and Dover took to preserve their tribal culture. Shelton was a carver and storyteller known to outwit heavy-handed federal authorities bent on assimilation. Shelton found his ways to keep tribal traditions alive. Dover was a critical link in making sure history, stories passed on by elders and the Lushootseed language were not lost.

Their lessons rubbed off on the boy, who would make his own mark through his work for the tribes. Wayne Williams did so quietly, on and off the reservation.

Williams was 89 when he died Aug. 2. He knew how to deliver a message. As the tribes became a major economic force in the 1990s, Williams remembered the lean times when tribal board members had to pass the hat just to pay for postage stamps. Colleagues describe a unifying figure who taught through parables, guiding modern-day tribal leaders to embrace the wisdom of their ancestors.

He will be remembered for the hand he played in tribal economic development, for his keen sense of tribal history and for his soft chuckle.

Marie Zackuse, chairwoman of the tribal board of directors, said Williams was an honest and kind man who was pivotal in the foundational work that has allowed Tulalip to succeed in business and in preserving its culture.

“He leaves behind a beautiful and wonderful legacy for our people and our generations to come,” she said.

“The right guy”

Wayne Williams was born in Everett in 1928 and grew up in Tulalip. He graduated from Marysville High School and followed in his father’s footsteps working on ferry boats.

He was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War and witnessed above-ground atomic testing while stationed at Camp Desert Rock in Nevada. He married Margaret Charles before he was deployed. The couple had two sons.

After the war, Williams studied accounting at a Seattle business school and found work at Boeing in drafting and monitoring time sheets. At the time, he was on a crew developing the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, the subsonic, jet-powered strategic bomber. He helped draw up plans for an early version of one of the plane’s ejection seats.

Williams later became assistant manager for the tribes when there were less than a half dozen employees. He spent 40 years working for the tribes. He served on the tribal board of directors, became manager of the Tulalip Bingo hall in the 1980s and was a key figure in opening the tribes’ first casino. Today, the tribes are Snohomish County’s third-biggest employer, accounting for 3,700 jobs.

“He seemed to be the right guy at the right time, wherever he happened to be,” said his son, Brian Williams.

At home, according to his family, Williams was a voracious reader, with stacks of old books that he had read, and stacks of new books yet to read. He’d pore over the morning newspapers and his musical tastes included everything from Bill Haley & His Comets to jazz great David Brubeck to hard rockers AC/DC.

A family biography, which began as a school project written by one of Williams’ grandsons several years ago, wraps up with these lines: “Wayne believed that a person should stand behind anything they say, and should strive to always be humble, trustworthy, and let their deeds do the talking for them. Wayne also believed in giving thanks daily to the Creator for the blessings that one has received.”

Respect the culture

Ken Adams met Wayne Williams in 1990, just after the National Indian Gaming Regulatory Act passed. Adams had been in the casino business and had become a consultant. They were introduced by a mutual friend.

Adams was hired to help the tribes open their first casino in 1992. He watched Williams’ influence, his summaries at the end of meetings when he would describe the issues and point out the traditions, “speaking the words that explained everything in the context of tribal culture.”

The tribes rejected offers for financial backing, including a tempting pitch from a New York businessman named Donald Trump.

Adams described how Williams sought to honor his mother and grandparents in everything he did. He’d share the hardships they’d endured, the mistreatment in the tribal boarding school, the stripping away of their language and religious practices and the frustrations of trying to get the federal government to make good on treaty promises.

“His whole point was respecting the people and the culture and history first before profit,” Adams said. “I don’t know that I have ever met anybody who was a finer human being.”

John McCoy returned to Tulalip in 1994 after 20 years in the Air Force, a stint as a computer technician in the White House and a healthy stretch in the private sector.

The tribes had plans for McCoy. First, he’d need to spend time with Williams. For two weeks, they’d meet each day at the old administrative offices on the waterfront.

“He was my mentor,” McCoy said. “He schooled me in the ways of the vision of the tribes. He took me back to the late 1800s. There was a lot of history. He talked. I listened.”

Williams told him about what the elders were looking for, and not just those who were still living.

McCoy would later become general manager of a project that came to be known as Quil Ceda Village, which today includes the Tulalip Resort Casino and Seattle Premium Outlets. He is now a state senator.

Trust and understanding

Harriette Dover had a remarkable life. As a child, she felt the wrath of a leather strap at the boarding school after she was caught speaking her native language. She was Tulalip’s first tribal board chairwoman. She served as a tribal judge and on the Marysville School Board. She opened her home to children on field trips to hear her stories and see her artifacts. In the 1970s, she testified in the landmark federal court case on salmon fishing rights that came to be known as the Boldt decision.

In her 70s, she enrolled at Everett Community College. She particularly enjoyed her anthropology courses.

Darleen Fitzpatrick, her instructor in those classes, soon realized that her student had much insight to offer inside and outside the classroom.

“As time went by, Darleen began to think about trying to save information that my mother was offering,” Wayne Williams wrote many years later. “After pondering the matter, Darleen discussed it with my mother and they began a relationship that endured until my mother’s death in 1991. In a sense, it is still continuing today.”

The result of their collaboration was a book, “Tulalip, From My Heart.” It was Dover’s autobiography, edited by Fitzpatrick.

In the early 1980s, Fitzpatrick met weekly with Dover and taped her stories.

Fitzpatrick said Williams played an important role. He trusted Fitzpatrick and reassured his mother she wouldn’t run off with her tapes and write her own book. He had a knack for sewing together disparate pieces and making sure they didn’t fall apart, she said.

Williams also recognized how hard it was to transcribe, organize and present the material and the untold hours Fitzpatrick spent over many years.

In 2013, 12 years after Dover died and more than two decades after she recorded her stories, Fitzpatrick stopped by Williams’ home to hand deliver a copy of the book.

Fitzpatrick remembers that moment fondly.

“He gripped it with both hands and held it for a while as if he was absorbing it, as if it was the last contact he could have with his mother,” she said. “Then he put it on his bed which told me he would begin to read it when he went to sleep later that evening. It was great to have his support when we no longer had Harriette, but then he was with me all of the way through.”

“Dearly missed”

Tessa Campbell was a recent hire with the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve in 2009 when she was made part of a special assignment.

Wayne Williams wanted to donate artifacts to the museum.

Eight years later, Campbell, now a senior curator, still marvels at the treasures he gave.

Outside his home, beneath sticker bushes, tribal maintenance crews helped remove two century-old ocean-going cedar canoes. It took a month of planning and delicate maneuvering. Trenches were dug and planks strategically placed to pry the relics from the soil so they could be preserved with minimal damage. Today, one of the canoes — a 40-footer built in the 1870s — is on display.

Inside the home, carvings by William Shelton were carefully removed. There were generations of possessions belonging to a family that seemed to have saved everything. Diaries and journals from Shelton, Dover and Williams were pored over. In all, 200 boxes of artifacts were escorted into safe storage, including a trove of old photos.

For Campbell, the documents offered insight into her own family. Shelton’s journals regularly recorded births and deaths. It was an entry from October 1916 that caught the curator’s eyes. That, she finally learned, is when her grandmother, Katherine Campbell, was born.

William Shelton opened a short-lived museum of Indian artifacts in 1928 inside a converted gas station he bought in Everett. Wayne Williams felt the same need to share their tribal heritage.

“He absolutely felt that the efforts of his grandfather and his mother were to educate not only Tulalip people about their culture but also their surrounding community,” Campbell said.

Toward the end of his life, Williams could not leave home so Campbell and others would pay him monthly visits. They’d bring a slide projector and historic photos. On the wall would appear images dating back 80 years. Williams could identify the faces in the photos by name.

“His knowledge and persona is just so valuable to our community,” Campbell said. “He will be dearly missed.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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