Tribes want respect for burial, fishing site

MARYSVILLE The Tulalip Tribes are asking Washington state to take a closer look at a new state park that may encroach on native archeological sites dating back 2,000 years. And to do so the Tribes want to put the entire park beach on the National Register of Historical Places.

  • Thursday, August 28, 2008 11:39am
  • News

MARYSVILLE The Tulalip Tribes are asking Washington state to take a closer look at a new state park that may encroach on native archeological sites dating back 2,000 years. And to do so the Tribes want to put the entire park beach on the National Register of Historical Places.
Currently the fishing and resort village built in the 1930s is on the register: the Tribes want to add an ancient native fishing village to the roster.
Renovations to the Cama Beach State Park include the rebuilding of dozens of bungalows, a retreat lodge and conference space as part of a goal to build modern conference center at the park. But the Tulalips say there are many burial sites on the mile-long park and are asking the state parks department to restrict access on the most sensitive areas to the north of the plot of land on the west side of Camano Island, about where Kayak Point County Park is on the mainland.
The move to put the site on the historical register is an attempt to raise awareness of the ancient site and put the issue before the court of public opinion. Tribal leader Mel Sheldon Jr. said administrators have listened to the Tulalip concerns but have not altered plans that could disturb graves dating back to the time of Christ.
There are several sites of that age and older, said Richard Young, an archeological historian who works for the Tribes. What makes this one unique is how intact it is.
The area the Indians worry about the most is a swath of land about 1,850 feet in length and about 300 feet wide where radio carbon dating shows deposits made by Coastal Salish Indians from 300 to 1,650 years ago, he added. Many of those deposits contain layers of shell middens and other relics of Salish occupation, including woodworking tools and food for medicinal and ceremonial use.
A Tribal report said that when first a logging camp and then a boating resort was built in the 1930s as many as 22 graves were disturbed and moved. Since 1999 five more burial sites were discovered. Only
5 percent of the beach area has been examined and the Tulalips want the state to slow the work or alter plans for the north end until the site can be examined more thoroughly. The park should open next spring.
So we know that theres probably a whole lot more there, Sheldon said.
His hope is to grab the states and the general publics attention and to get the state to work more collaboratively with the Tribes to protect and preserve the remains, those that have been unearthed and those that havent. The Tulalips submitted a memorandum expressing their concerns to the parks department last year.
They by and large accepted them but they did not implement the changes, Sheldon said. As a result of that we felt that we wanted to declare this a historical site.
While the register is a federal instrument kept by the U. S. Department of the Interior, it is administered by the state, and so a listing would not be kicking the issue up to the federal level. Thats not what the Tulalips are seeking anyway, according to Sheldon.
Were keeping it right at this level, he said. This is state land, because its not at the federal level we cannot use the graves act [the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act] on this one.
We are appealing to the court of public opinion, Sheldon emphasized.
Sheldon said his people have not appealed to Gov. Christine Gregoire and hopes things can be worked out with the parks department.
We have full belief that we can work through this with them but that option is still available, he added.
Sheldon said he understood and respected the work of state legislators to create and renovate the park and its resort. Asked if the state were to try to improve access to the historical areas, he offered some words of caution. The northern area should be protected with a boundary, of fencing or landscaping since there is just a handful of cabins there now, but the state wants a free flow of pedestrian traffic through that area.
There will still be plenty of access to the recreational opportunities to the south end of the park, and Sheldon said there was no reason modern people couldnt not live and play near his ancestors.
We want respect for our 2,000 years of history and its only natural that the win-win is that both stories be told with respect and sensitivity and dignity, Sheldon said.
Jean Waller, the regional manager for the Washington State Parks Department in charge of the project, would not comment on the issue and referred calls to the departments Olympia headquarters. Virginia Painter, a spokesperson with the Olympia office did return a call while traveling but was not able to comment at length. Painter did say the state is trying to work with the Tribes.

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