Between Two Worlds

Experiences at the Tulalip Indian Boarding School

Hibulb Cultural Center Explore About Tulalip People Between Two Worlds: Experiences at the Tulalip Indian Boarding School.

1905 – 1932
Assimilation through Education
By Carolyn J. Marr
Marching, Marching, Marching

"They wanted me to forget my way of life and learn to be civilized and learn to be a good white person. I still don’t know what a good white person is. All I know is that I learned to march, march, march, and not speak my language. You got in big trouble for that. I got many whippings and confinement.”
—Celum Young, Tulalip Leader (1895–1987)

The People of the Salmon

The Story of the Tribes that Became Tulalip

View the entire story in the Tulalip Tribes Visitors Guide starting on page 18 of the brochure.

If you look among the historical listings of the early groups of Coastal Salish people who lived below the line which separates Canada and the U.S., you won’t find a reference to "Tulalip" (pronounced Tuh’-lay-lup) Indians until modern times.

Tulalip is a place – a spectacularly beautiful, sheltered bay on the eastern shore of Washington’s Puget Sound. The Lushootseed word for it dxʷlilap; it means “far to the end” and refers to how canoes entering the bay had to cut a wide berth around the sandbar on the south side to avoid running aground.

Image: Inside School RoomHistory books credit Captain Vancouver with discovering Tulalip Bay by accident when, according to one source, his ship Discovery ran aground on a sand bar. In truth, however, centuries prior to the coming of any white man, we roamed throughout this area and made it our home. According to Vancouver’s own journals, when he did come ashore at this pristine spot on the afternoon of June 4, 1792 to claim English possession, he found our ancestors “…helpful and non-threatening.”

Just half a century after Vancouver’s grounding, settlers arrived, claimed portions of land on the northern shore of Tulalip Bay, and constructed a sawmill by 1853. This was Snohomish County’s first white encampment, before the county itself had been designated; Washington, at the time, was still a “territory.”

And just a few years later, around this same bay, leaders of the Indian nations who attended the now-famous 1855 gathering at Mukilteo, settled their people – after giving up much of what is now the western portion of Washington State.

Image: PatkanimPatkanim of the sdukʷalbixʷ Snoqualmie tribe, and other leaders who attended the gathering, requested that the reservation be located at Tulalip Bay because it had “… plenty of timber and creeks.” This was a region with nearly 20,000 acres of forest land, where two freshwater streams converged, and where the fish were plentiful.

The Tulalip Tribes are federally recognized successors in interest to the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, and other allied tribes and bands signatory to the Treaty of Point Elliott. Our ancestors collectively agreed to cede their ancestral lands and relocate their tribal homes to the Tulalip Federal Reserve.

Those tribes, which after living alongside one another at the Tulalip Reservation for 79 years, agreed upon the U.S. Government’s urging to form a single governmental structure under the auspices of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.

We have held to our agreements and promises for more than 150 years. And have honored our treaty commitments and, in turn, rely on the federal government to uphold our treaty rights.

Long before Captain Vancouver came ashore at Tulalip Bay, the many tribes of the Coast Salish people thrived on the lands surrounding Puget Sound. The climate was mild and fish and wildlife were abundant. United by a common heritage and a root language (Salish), more than 30 tribes and bands of Indian people lived in relative harmony with the land and each other.

Image: Tulalip Tribes Historical Highlights Graphic

The sheltered waterways and rivers allowed our people to connect with one another. As marriages between members of different extended families was encouraged, gatherings which brought the various tribes together were important social events, particularly so for the younger people who were eager to find mates. These also served as markets for trading, and the evening campfires offered opportunity to pass on legends and dances which were important teachings and perpetuated life-ways, history, and spirituality of Coast Salish culture.

The potlatch, long a Northwest Indian tradition, was a great feast given to celebrate important events and confirm the power of a leader by the giving of gifts to guests. These were held during the summer when the salmon began to run, and after successful hunts, and when adolescent children received new names to replace their childhood names. People from other tribes were invited; some traveled great distances to attend.

During warm weather our people followed the game and fish runs, erecting temporary encampments that could be moved quickly. Winter homes on the other hand were large permanent structures, constructed of massive cedar beams and planks, and usually shared by several families of the same bloodline.

In addition to being hunters, fishermen, and gatherers, our ancestors were also accomplished traders. They traveled up and down the Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean in large cedar canoes – from the north past Vancouver Island and inland to Fort Langley, B.C. to as far south as Fort Nisqually and into the Columbia River via the Pacific. Transactions were often conducted using shell money, with values determined by the size and rarity of the seashells.

Our people shared a strong belief in the existence of a “myth age,” when beings that displayed both human and animal qualities roamed the earth. According to legend, the Changer, dukʷibəɬ, changed many of these beings into animals, some dangerous creatures into stone, and gave the native people the essential elements of their culture.

Totems carved from cedar, the “tree of life”, were prominently displayed in the large potlatch houses. Images depicted on story poles represented ancestral spirits that the people felt influenced many aspects of their existence. By calling upon their spirit guardians, they gained a sense of control over the unpredictable forces of life.

Image: Salmon DryingMembers of the Snoqualmie tribe initially lived inland along the Snoqualmie River, from North Bend to the junction of the Skykomish and Snoqualmie rivers. They were called sdukʷalbixʷ, which means extraordinary people. They were great hunters who lived principally on game and salmon. During the summer they would visit families of the coastal Snohomish tribe to feast on seal, sturgeon, clams, and salmon. In summer they went to Snoqualmie Prairie to gather roots and berries and hunt throughout the Cascade Mountains.

As one of the largest tribes in the area, the Snohomish (sduhubš) were given due respect by others. They lived in four principal communities but claimed Hibulb, their main settlement just four miles south of Tulalip (on the north shore of Everett along the Snohomish River), as their original home. č̓ƛ̕aʔqs, at Priest Point, was the second largest community. dəgʷasx̌, on the southern point of Whidbey Island, and č̓əč̓ɬqs, across from Tulalip at Sandy Point, were the others.

Skykomish settlements were located along the Skykomish and Foss Rivers. From these spots the Skykomish (sq̓ixʷəbš) traveled deep into the Cascades on hunting expeditions.

During the early years of the United States, the government attempted to maintain friendly relations with our people. Of the first 13 laws enacted by the first U.S. Congress, four dealt with Indian matters. The U.S. Constitution gave Congress the power to regulate trade with tribes and ultimately established federal authority to keep peace, make treaties, and spend monies on Indian matters.

During the years of westward expansion, the policy concerning Indians was simple: nudge them ever forward as white settlers moved across the country from the east. This “nudging” also included mistreatment in the name of power, money, and land, along with exposure to European and Western disease, alcohol, and other “gifts.” When colonists reached the western boundaries of the continent and realized the “new world” was not endless, government officials were pressed to secure land for the pioneers by seeking land cession agreements, or treaties, from the Indians.

In pursuit of this intention the U.S. Government established the Bureau of Indians Affairs in 1824, and five years later made it part of the Department of Interior.

Isaac Ingalls Stevens, Washington’s first territorial governor, became this region’s first superintendent of Indian Affairs. By 1853, he had identified 30 different Indian tribes in the general Puget Sound area and had estimated the surviving collective population to be between 5,000 and 7,000 individuals. His correspondence with the Indian Office expressed his strong concern for the need to sign treaties with these tribes.

Image: Couple in Front of CabinAt the time, something very similar was taking place to the north. The Indians of British Columbia, at meetings in 1850 and 1852 with Governor James Douglas, negotiated a series of treaties which ceded all their lands except their accustomed settlements, camps, and fishing sites, most of which would later become reserves.

The “deal” he sought would exchange vast portions of territory for various goods and services. Chiefs would receive annuities. A school would be provided. All of this, of course, was predicated on the understanding that the Indians would move to designated areas set aside as “reservations.”

A leading concern for our people was that their right to fish in their usual places would be preserved. This is the core essence of our culture, our way of life. It has been said that fishing was of no less importance to Coast Salish people than the atmosphere they breathed.

Point Elliott was actually the second treaty Stevens pursued. On the day before Christmas in 1854, at what is now McAllister Creek in Thurston County, Governor Isaac Stevens met with Nisqually, Squaxins, Puyallups, and Indians of six other tribes. Two days later, 62 chiefs signed the Treaty of Medicine Creek which established the Puyallup, Nisqually, and Squaxin reservations.

It was called the The Treaty With The Suquamish, Staktalijamish, Samahmish, And Other Allied And Subordinate Tribes In Washington but came to be known as the Treaty of Point Elliott. Based on our ancestors’ contacts with white settlers, all of which had been quite friendly, leaders of Duwamish, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, Snohomish, Stillaguamish, Swinomish, Skagit, and Lummi tribes agreed to attend.

Image: The Convention at MukilteoIn late January, 1855, 2,300 Indian people gathered on the shores of Puget Sound at what is now Mukilteo, Washington. Over the course of several days, the treaty document, having been prepared well before the council even convened, was read to our ancestors who, although they understood little of the white man’s language, were expected to sign it. 82 headmen signed the treaty on January 22, 1855.

Among them were Chief Patkanim of the Snoqualmie; Chief Chow-its-hoot of the Lummi; and Chief Goliath of the Skagit tribe; sub-chiefs S’hootst-hoot, Bonaparte, George Bonaparte, Joseph Bonaparte, Jackson, and John Hobtsthoot, all of the Snohomish tribe; Chief Seattle of the Duwamish and Suquamish, and a number of others.

The document called for the tribes to give up a vast region where they lived for generations. This land comprised millions of acres – from the Cascade Mountains to the east, the Canadian border to the north, south almost to Tacoma, and west to the waters of Puget Sound. It included the San Juans, Whidbey and other habitable islands. It encompassed several present-day Washington counties: King, Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom, Island, and part of Kitsap.

The tribes, in turn, were to retain four relatively small parcels of land; these would be the reserves set aside for their use and occupation. Three of these parcels were originally intended to be temporary reserves, but became permanent reservations.

Image: Snohomish Indians on Puget Sound erected temporary dwellingsTulalip, at the mouth of the Snohomish River, was originally intended to be the general permanent reservation for the Point Elliott treaty tribes, but became the permanent reservation for the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, and other allied tribes and bands. It has more than 22,000 acres as well as the waters of Tulalip Bay and is located close to the territory of the Snoqualmie and Snohomish Indians.

The treaty provided for money to be paid – $15,000 for the “preparation of reservation lands for habitation,” another $150,000 over a 20-year period for “annuity goods,” and compensation to individuals for their “removal to the proposed reservations.” Also promised in writing: a school would be provided with teachers for 20 years, a blacksmith, carpenter, and farmer would be hired to instruct our people in their respective occupations, and a doctor would be provided at the central agency.

Our leaders were assured that the treaty would secure their fishing rights, and those of their tribal descendants, to fish in all of their “…usual and accustomed…” off-reservation places, and to hunt and gather on all open and unclaimed lands. Washington Territorial Governor Issac Stevens said, “this paper secures your fish.”

The treaty further called for the abolition of alcohol and slavery on the reservation, and underscored the necessity for our people to remain friendly with their white neighbors. For their part, the participating tribes agreed to move from their homes and settle collectively upon the designated reserves within one year of the treaty’s ratification.

Because of political squabbles among federal officials, the Treaty of Point Elliott was not ratified until 1859. It was not until December 23, 1873, some 14 years later, that the Tulalip Indian Reservation was officially established by presidential executive order.

Shortly after ratification of the Point Elliott Treaty, the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, and Skykomish tribes moved to the reservation at Tulalip Bay.

By 1862, reservation agent S.D. Howe noted that the Indians under his charge at the agency included “…the Snoqualmoo, Sno-ho-mish, and Skai-wha-mish tribes” with a combined population of 1,200, and that Club Shelton, “Head Chief” of the Snohomish tribe, lived among them on the Tulalip Reservation.

Image: Under Agent S.D. Howe's charge included Snoqualmie, Snohomish, and Ski'wamish tribesThe following year, in his annual report to the Indian Office, Agent Howe reported again – this time with slightly different spellings that the “Snohomish, Snoqualmie and Skykomish lived here at Tulalip.”

The historical record is full of documentation describing the presence of the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, and Skykomish tribes at Tulalip since treaty times. Through all these years we maintained our culture, religion, language, and bloodlines, even under the strict guidelines set out by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Things were not easy for our people. They were expected to learn how to farm and the heavily timbered land was not suited for crops.

Image: Inside School RoomThe Indian school was a key element of the treaty promise. Tulalip was the designated site for an agricultural and industrial school for “…all the Indians west of the Cascade mountains…which was to have a capacity of educating a thousand Indian children.” The government’s pledge called for the school to be provided within one year of the treaty signing, with a promise to maintain it for at least 20 years. Seen originally as a benefit for the Tulalip Tribes, the government school ultimately served to interrupt and suppress Coast Salish culture, history, lifeways, and spirituality for many generations.

Image: Reverend E.C. ChirouseBefore a government school could be established, a traveling missionary named Reverend E.C. Chirouse came down the Snohomish and Snoqualmie Rivers to camp at the mouth of Quil Ceda Creek where he began to offer academic and religious training. He was sent to establish a school by the French Roman Catholic Oblates of Mary Immaculate Church. By late 1857 he had built a log church at Priest Point, adorning it with a bell and a beautiful statue of St. Anne that had traveled with him from France. The bell and statue, known as the “French Madonna,” remain today at the relocated Mission of St. Anne Church in Tulalip. With a tribal settlement of hundreds of members located near Chirouse, he was soon teaching tribal pupils as he preached, instructed and baptized throughout the region. Typical of missionaries at the time, Chirouse exhorted his students to forgo all their traditional practices, calling them “the Devil’s work.”

Image: Boys SchoolThe mission school at Tulalip began receiving meager government support beginning in 1861, when a boys’ dormitory and a teachers’ house were constructed on Tulalip Bay, but not until the close of the Civil War could a school for girls be established. At the all-boys school, Chirouse wrote Snohomish language books and taught religion, woodcarving, and farming. When the government did not supply their promised aid, Father Chirouse traveled the land, begging for help to continue his work. Since there was no doctor, it was left to Father Chirouse to care for our people through a devastating smallpox epidemic. The Sisters of Providence arrived in 1868 and until 1901 they operated the Tulalip Mission School of St. Anne, which was the first Indian contract school in the United States. The new school, originally for girls, was located below today’s Mission cemetery on the southern bank of Tulalip Bay. Needing to fulfill treaty commitments, the U.S. government agreed to Father Chirouse’s request to provide funds to maintain the buildings and the church, furnished books, clothing, and medical care.

Image: Tulalip Mission SchoolThe new school, originally for girls, was located below today’s Mission cemetery on the southern bank of Tulalip Bay. Needing to fulfill treaty commitments, the U.S. government agreed to Father Chirouse’s request to provide funds to maintain the buildings and the church furnished books, clothing and medical care. In 1878 the Pope transferred Chirouse and the Sisters of Providence took charge of the male students under Chirouse’s separate care.

In the 1880s the U.S. government began the assimilation and Americanization process for Indians throughout the country. Their plan called for Indian children to leave their homes on the reservations to live at government assisted Indian boarding schools. The policy was enforced by Congress in 1893 with a law that stated all Indian children from age six to 16 had to attend an Indian boarding school. Agents on reservations became the enforcers of this law, withholding rations or annuities from parents or sending them to jail if they did not place their children in the schools.

Image: Tulalip Indian School 1912The boarding schools separated families and children from their customs, religion, beliefs, life-ways, clothing, and native language. There were also considerable health risks, as communicable diseases such as tuberculosis and influenza took their toll in the crowded conditions of the schools. By the late 1800s, life at Tulalip Mission School began to transform into a military-style boarding academy. Reservation children were subjected to non-Indian teachers intent on “civilizing” them. They were allowed little contact with their families while in school and strict discipline was maintained— with a leather strap if necessary. The school enforced marching, mandatory use of uniforms, and forbade the use of native languages.

Image: St. Annes On The BayEventually the U.S. government took over the Tulalip Missionary School at the turn of the century, making renovations and reopening on December 17, 1901. Soon after on March 29, 1902, the school was destroyed by fire sending home the children— but only for a short time. The government built a new school, further north along the inner shoreline of Tulalip Bay, the Tulalip Indian School opened on January 23, 1905 under the supervision of Charles Milton Buchanan (who also assumed the duties of the Indian agent when that position was abolished). By 1907 it had two dormitories for boys and girls and could accommodate 200 students. Many of the students came from other reservations and communities. Tulalip offered education up to the eighth grade, and some students continued on elsewhere for more advanced training.

Image: Tulalip TotemBoarding schools did offer one advantage. Children were taught multiple subjects such as writing, arithmetic, and reading. That allowed the younger members of the various tribes to learn a common language, English, which enhanced their ability to live and work in the emerging world. Children also learned job skills such as farming, western cooking, cleaning, carpentry, nursing, blacksmithing, office work, baking, sewing, and vehicle repair. In the 1920s, the U.S. government began to abandon the boarding school concept in favor of public schools. In 1932, the Tulalip Indian School closed, ending a 50 year focus on American style, language, and values that nearly erased tribal language, history, culture, values, and spirituality.

Image: Shelton PortraitDespite the Bureau’s strict discipline, our people maintained strong tribal communities. Our culture survived and flourished on the reservation as an expression of the collective will of the people. Tribal leaders served on the Indian police force and on the reservation’s Court of Indian Offenses which heard civil and criminal suits involving tribal members. In the 1920s and 1930s, tribal leaders such as William Shelton (son of Chief Club Shelton Whea-Kadim) emerged, re-educating the Western world about tribal culture and history through public cultural performances and the carving of totem or story poles and canoes. One half of an original five-story pole once stood in front of Tulalip Elementary School. Another eight-story high pole sits on the capitol grounds in Olympia, on the south side of the General Administration Building.

Image: Digging PotatoesIn 1934, Congress enacted The Indian Reorganization Act to encourage members of reservation tribes to take a more direct role in managing our destinies. The Indian Reorganization Act provided the basis for tribes to strengthen and revitalize our tribal governments. After a year of discussion, the members of the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, and Skykomish tribes at Tulalip voted to form a single reservation governmental structure. A committee was appointed to draw up a new constitution and bylaws. To ensure a harmonious merger between the reservation tribes, our leaders mutually agreed to adopt the one name which was now common among us, the name of our home, Tulalip.

Image: Robert Sheldon Logging CampSo was formed the government known as the Tulalip Tribes of Washington. The federal government nevertheless continues to recognize and deal with the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, and Skykomish as the three integral tribes that formed the Tulalip Tribes.

Image: Marya Moses, Danny Moses, Neil Moses (seated), and Robert Moses fish on Tulalip BayThe tribe’s treaty fishing rights were vindicated by a now famous lawsuit over treaty fishing rights in 1974. Judge George H. Boldt issued his decision reconfirming that the off-reservation fishing areas of the Tulalip Tribes included those of the aboriginal Snohomish and Snoqualmie tribes – and as successors of these tribes, we are entitled to fish in these usual and accustomed fishing areas.

Today tribal government and the people of the Tulalip Tribes continue to protect our sovereign rights through a number of initiatives:

  • Maintaining a strong Tribal Government
  • Provide tribal opportunities for education, jobs, land, and housing
  • Improve the tribal community by promoting physical, emotional and spiritual happiness and perpetuating cultural and environmental sensitivity
  • Improving the infrastructure on the reservation
  • And improving the Tribes’ economic base that provides the primary support for a growing population of young Tribal members.

This is an update of “the People of the Salmon”, an article researched and drafted by our Cultural Resources Department in 1993-1994.

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6410 23rd Avenue NE
Tulalip, WA 98271
360-716-2600