Squaws and Scalping: Washington Adults Need Cultural Awareness Training

Library of Congress The Washington State Committee of Geographic Names is considering a proposal to change the name of Squaw Bay on Shaw Island, part of the San Juan Islands, an archipelago in the middle of the Salish Sea.

Squaws and Scalping: Washington Adults Need Cultural Awareness Training

Thanks to a 2015 law authored by state Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, school districts in the State of Washington are required to teach their students about the history and culture of local Native nations.

Some of the benefits of that law: Future leaders receive a more accurate, complete teaching of state history; they become more culturally aware and informed; and they understand sovereignty and the authority of the Native nations with which they will engage.

As McCoy would likely say, the law was way past due (he tried unsuccessfully to get a similar law approved 10 years earlier). If the curriculum—titled Since Time Immemorial—is ever offered for adults, here are some individuals that should receive an invitation to join the class.

AP Photo/Louie Balukoff In this file photo, Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, listens to testimony in Olympia, Washington, as the House Education Committee hears a bill sponsored by McCoy. McCoy, the only Native American member of the legislature sponsored a bill that will require school districts to develop and teach a tribal history and culture curriculum.

A name is only a name? The state Committee of Geographic Names is considering a proposal to change the name of Squaw Bay on Shaw Island, part of the San Juan Islands, an archipelago in the middle of the Salish Sea.

An original proposal is to name it Sq’emenen, the Lummi name for the island, which is in the Lummi Nation’s historical territory. A counter-proposal from the Shaw Island Historical Society is to name it Reef Net Bay, in honor of the type of fishing developed by the Lummi that is now practiced there by non-Native fishermen.

Several residents of the island say they want the name to remain “Squaw.” The most remarkable argument: “I would like the name Squaw Bay to remain the official place name of the Bay located on the southeast shore of Shaw Island,” Jon Shannon wrote to the state committee. “Naming a place something offensive to someone somewhere is not the same as calling someone who might be offended by that name.”

Shannon, incidentally, is a member of the Shaw Island School Board.

On a good note: The state committee is expected to formally approve a name change in October. And a state senator has asked the state Commissioner of Public Lands to document place names in the state that are generally considered racially insensitive or offensive, and begin work with local communities and Native nations on determining new names.

Political activist scores a what? A state legislator who happens to be a Democrat announced in early May that he plans to retire. That prompted a celebratory letter from political activist Tim Eyman, author of 20 state initiatives designed to cut taxes, limit taxing authority, or direct that funds from the general fund be spent on roads. Of his initiatives, six have been found to be unconstitutional, five failed to qualify for the ballot, and one was overturned by the legislature.

“We scored a scalp,” Eyman wrote in an email to supporters, the media and others. “For weeks we’ve been bashing Democrats—one of them ‘retired’ last week.”

Eyman took his share of bashing over his flip reference to scalping—described succinctly in a Wikipedia article as “the act of cutting or tearing a part of the human scalp, with hair attached, from the head of an enemy as a trophy.” Scalping is a sensitive topic with a complex history; scalping was used in battle by Native nations and, later, against Native Americans by newcomers to the continent.

In 1689, Massachusetts created a scalp bounty, offering $60 for each Native American scalp, and in 1722 put a bounty on non-combatant Native families, influencing the organization of scalp-hunting expeditions. And during the time of the grandparents’ grandparents, at Sand Creek, a Colorado Territory militia attacked a peaceful village of Cheyenne and Arapaho, killing and mutilating as many as 163 people.

Most social media users called Eyman’s comment “stupid” and “offensive.” Others, citing such a flip reference to scalping, called it “negligent” and “racist.” One, a journalist, wrote, “What century are we in now? The children are, especially, watching … listening … hearing the racism spewing across the land still … So very sad.”

Not a good sign: Fifty-eight percent of voters approved Eyman’s first initiative, I-200, in 1998, which prohibits affirmative action in public employment, education and contracting. A good sign: A 2004 Eyman initiative that would have legalized slot machines statewide was turned down by 62 percent of voters; other forms of gambling, including those in card rooms, are already allowed on non-Indian lands. And a 2006 referendum that would have overturned a law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation failed to qualify for the ballot.

Judge rules county has jurisdiction over piece of Indian country. A Kitsap County Superior Court judge ruled that the City of Bremerton has jurisdiction over an acre of Native trust land within its city limits. The Suquamish Tribe is considering a possible response; Bremerton is within its historical territory and Suquamish has customarily exercised regulatory authority over the Native trust land there.

This gets complicated. Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version:

The site, 1321 N. Callow Ave., Bremerton, is owned by the Chambers family, whose Quinault grandmother, Roberta Law Ross, was granted the land by the federal government in the 1920s in exchange for land it wanted for expansion of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Ross’s descendants, who also have S’Klallam and Samish ties, are members of the Samish Nation.

The site was in a rural area when it was granted to Ross; the area is now urbanized.

As Native trust land, the site falls under the jurisdiction of the United States. Because it is within the historical territory of the Suquamish Tribe, the Suquamish Tribe has permitting authority over the site and has issued permits to the Chambers family for fireworks sales there. The semi-forested site also features the Chambers’ family home, built in the 1920s, as well as spaces that are rented for mobile homes and RVs.

In a lawsuit filed in March 2014, the City of Bremerton claimed the Chambers family must obtain a state license and a city permit to sell fireworks, and that the site falls under city jurisdiction because the site “is not now, and has never been, located within the boundaries of an Indian reservation,” and is located “outside the boundaries of an established Indian reservation.”

Superior Court Judge Kevin Hull ruled for the City of Bremerton on Jan. 8, declaring the Chambers family cannot sell fireworks on the property without a state license and a city permit.

Hull’s ruling is contrary to federal law. 18 U.S. Code 1151, which defines “Indian country” as: “(a) all land within the limits of any Indian reservation under the jurisdiction of the United States Government … (b) all dependent Indian communities within the borders of the United States … and (c) all Indian allotments, the Indian titles to which have not been extinguished …”

The Chambers property falls under “c.” And under federal law, Indian country falls under the jurisdiction of Native nations.

The City of Bremerton may have more than fireworks sales in mind in the county’s assertion of jurisdiction over the site: The Chambers family has long explored economic development options, and last proposed building and operating a casino there. The Bremerton City Council has formally opposed the casino proposal, citing concerns about possible impacts to the neighborhood.

What’s next: The Suquamish Tribe had not responded to the Superior Court’s ruling as of this writing. But on Feb. 16, it issued this statement: “The Suquamish Tribe is reviewing the Kitsap County Superior Court case regarding the regulation of Federal Trust Land on Callow Ave. in Bremerton, WA. The history and location of this specific trust property presents a unique scenario. However, any attempt by county or state courts to assert jurisdiction there is ill-founded and wholly contrary to Federal Indian Law which prohibits the action.”

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