Walking on stolen lands

Pierce College Puyallup Office of Student Life organizes event to explore historical Native American sites and early European settlements in the region

Chase Charaba, Editor-in-Chief

On the tilted wooden front porch of Factor’s House at Fort Nisqually, Pierce College Puyallup students sat on benches or sat criss-crossed on the floor as former professor Chuck Larsen explained the impact and history of the treaties that placed Native Americans in Washington into reservations. Smoke from the fort’s wood stoves drifted over the grassy fields surrounding the house and every now and then, a rooster called out with it’s song.

Fort Nisqually was the final stop on an all-day adventure from the Office of Student Life on May 13 that took students across Pierce County to see historical Native American sites and to learn the history of the region.

Diversity and Equity Coordinator Nhan Ta organized the event because he wanted students to know more about Native American culture.

“We live in Puyallup and Tacoma and I took Pacific Northwest history, (which is) when I first started to know about Native American cultures,” Ta said. “We should learn more instead of ignoring the cultures of the stolen lands.”

Ta said because of his background coming from Vietnam, he had a different perspective on Native Americans.

“I came from Vietnam, so in my country the media perceives Native Americans in a very bad way,” Ta said. “Before coming here, I thought Native Americans were bad people. I watched a TV show, and this TV show basically said that Native Americans do a lot of bad things to the white men, like the white men are the good people. But in reality, the white man forced them, the Native Americans, out of their lands and stole their lands and everything.”

Students met in the Connection Cafe of the College Center at 9:30 a.m. on May 13 to check-in and socialize with others before embarking on the event. Event speakers Larsen and professor Marcia Halstead explained the purpose of the event and gave a brief overview of what to take notes on and where students would be heading.

By 10 a.m. everyone was loaded into either the green or red college van, driven by professor Rob Stevens and Student Engagement Specialist Kelsie Nabass.

After the five minute drive to Sumner, the vans parked near the Old Cannery and students stood between the two vans looking over the Stuck River, which connects the White River to the Puyallup River in Sumner. Here Larsen spoke on the history of valley and some of the villages located there. He also explained two of the major geological events that impacted the region: the major eruption of Mount Rainier about 5,000 years ago that filled in the valley, and the changing course of the White River.

Larsen said a log jam in the 1870s in Auburn forced the White River to change course from emptying into the Green River to flow into the Stuck Creek and the Puyallup River. Larsen also discussed the history of the Stuck River’s name, which came from mispronunciation of a village located there named Staxabush. The village was abandoned in 1856 during the Puget Sound Indian War.

“The white settlers had an absolutely atrociously difficult time with anything the Salish said,” Larsen said to the group. “If you’re not (using) an Indo-European language, you don’t use the same little collection of sounds and Salish has about seven or eight significant sounds that don’t exist in English.”

Larsen said that other Salish words in the area were changed by the settlers, such as Tacoma, Tukwila and Snohomish.

This difficulty with pronunciation and mistranslation stemmed from the settlers’ use of Chinook in speaking with the natives. Larsen said that Chinook was easily pronounceable by an English speaker, but since it was a third language and neither the settlers nor the Puget Sound area natives spoke it fluently, it was nowhere near the full language.

“Not only did the settlers avoid the problem of trying to wrap their head around Salish words, that also meant they ignored grammar,” Larsen said. “They never really got to understand any of the structure of the language.”

After leaving Sumner, the group headed to downtown Tacoma and stopped along the Thea Foss Waterway. Here the ancient village of S’Puyallupabsh was inhabited at the mouth of the Puyallup River before it’s course was changed and it was burned down by Tacoma residents during the riots of the Chinese expulsion in 1886.

Due to time constraints, the third stop on the trip at Fireman’s Park was skipped and the group headed to Old Town Tacoma near Ruston at Old Town Park and Chinese Reconciliation Park. Here the group had wraps, chips and cookies for lunch provided by Lancer while Larsen spoke about the arrival of the first peoples in the Puget Sound region at the end of the last ice age and fishing in Commencement Bay.

The final stop on the trip was at Fort Nisqually in Point Defiance Park. The fort was originally located in DuPont and was built in the 1830s, but the surviving structures were moved to the present location in Tacoma in the 1930s when the rest of the fort was rebuilt.

The fort was operated by the Hudson’s Bay Company during the fur trade, but was closed in 1869, according to pamphlets from the fort.

Clubs Coordinator Khoa Nguyen went on the trip because he’s enrolled in a Pacific Northwest history class. He wanted to learn more about the native experience and to see what the fort really looked like.

“I wanted to see how the fort really looks like because we have a lot of forts like Fort Vancouver and Fort Astoria, but I’ve never seen a fort in my life,” Nguyen said. “I was like, ‘Oh, that’s what this looks like.’”

Students toured the buildings, led by Larsen, who has volunteered at the fort for many years. The granary is one of the two structures from the original fort, built in 1850, and is one of the oldest surviving wood structures in Washington. The group also walked through Factor’s House, which was built in 1855 for Dr. Tolmie.

“My favorite part is going to Fort Nisqually because it’s so similar to my country,” Ta said. “How people live in the wood houses. It’s just so simple, the life. The slow-paced living and all the roosters, chickens and the herbs and separation between kitchens and everything. That’s my favorite part.”

Ta said that it was different reading about the fort in his Pacific Northwest history textbook than actually being there and walking through the buildings.

“There’s nothing better than touching the real things and basically going around and listening to the professors,” Ta said. “(Larsen) is a descendant of the founders of Fort Nisqually and he has experience and knowledge with Native Americans.”

On the front porch of the Factor’s House, Larsen explained the treaties that placed Native Americans in the reservations, especially the Medicine Creek Treaty, and the Puget Sound Indian Wars.

Larsen said the translators assigned to the treaties by Governor Douglas Stevens spoke Chinook, which wasn’t adequate at explaining the terms and conditions of the treaty. The negotiators and delegates from the tribes were also often not tribal leaders or siEm. Instead, they were natives that were deemed friendly towards the settlers.

Natives signed the treaties that were not fully explained (and some were forged) and the United States government placed natives on reservations in areas that Larsen explains weren’t desirable for settlers.

The group headed back to Pierce after leaving the fort. Although a student was temporarily left behind at the fort, the vans made their way back to the college at 4 p.m.

Ta said the event went well, especially for his first off-campus event.

“This is my first time doing an off-campus event, so it was pretty nerve wracking,” Ta said. “It went well. The event was full in four days and the wait list was full.”

Ta said that next time, he’d make the event longer so that students could learn more.

“Maybe I’m going to do an overnight trip or something so that we have more time instead of rushing or cutting stories short,” Ta said. “I asked speakers to cut stories, so that’s why we had to cut locations.”

Despite cutting some of the stories to stay on schedule, most of the attendees thought the trip was worth it.

“I don’t know if people had fun or not, but I had fun,” Ta said.

The Puyallup Post is the award-winning news media of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2018. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @thepuyalluppost

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Walking on stolen lands

by Chase Charaba time to read: 6 min