Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Indian Shaker Church and the Lewis Family totem pole

Surprisingly terrible people.
And, by way of making this re-telling of these incongruent stories even weirder, they both originally were written about in the same edition of the Daily Olympian on July 5, 1970. 

The Indian Shaker Church on Mud Bay needed to be rebuilt. 

It had burned down in the winter before. And, in the summer of 1969, Indian Shaker adherents had noticed the roof had begun to cave in because of snow anyway. 

The original church structure had been only been built in 1910, the same year the Indian Shaker church was formalized.

So, the community of this particular fairly new faith got together to rebuild. They also reached out to seek help. A Seattle architect sent down plans and Simpson Timber company gave and delivered all the wood they needed. 

On July 4, 1970, Indian Shaker faithful from all across the region came to celebrate the reopening of the church. Because this church wasn't just an Indian Shaker Church, but the Indian Shaker Church. The mother church.

I'm not a tribal member nor a person of this particular faith, so I won't go into the history of the Indian Shaker religion. But, only to say that the religion was only founded in the late 1880s and for years was a robust expression of tribal culture. One white people even feared.

So, let's leave that there for a second and move to a week earlier, on Cooper Point, when something else entirely happened.

While Indians from all over the region were planning their visit to their newly rebuilt mother church, a white family on the other side of the bay was dressing up as Indians and unveiling a brand new totem pole they'd just bought.

And, in only the way that white people being totally unaware of the way they look or how they would be judged almost 50 years later, the Lewis family and their friends not only dressed up as Indians and played recorded "musical Indian chants, alternatively soft and loud..." but they called themselves by terribly derogatory Indian names that I won't recount here.

I should let you read the story yourself, and you really should, but the Lewis family should be judged. And judged harshly. The way they acted is not respectful. If their plan was to honor tribes and tribal history, treating it like a dress-up party is especially tasteless. I don't need to tell you that, though.

Where did they even get the idea to buy a totem pole?

Three years before the party and unveiling (I'm not going to use the term they use, but read the story) one of Dick Lewis' friends needed help moving his own totem pole. Being a nice friend, Dick came through with a truck and was smitten.
"Mrs. Lewis reported that 'totem fever infested the Lewis tribe" and they determined to have one for themselves." 
Dedicated as "unfolding a bit of Pacific Coast history, reminding all of us our precious heritage and need to preserve our God-given rights and freedoms," it provides "a tangible link between past and present" to the Lewises and the many people who are received as guests in their hospitable home.
This talk of freedom and God-given rights is a double serving of irony if you head back across the water to Mud Bay.

I mean, why were Indian Shaker adherents gathering on July 4?

Jeremiah George (Squaxin) wrote a bit in 2010:
When we practiced our culture in secrecy (for our European conquerors were quick to label us as hostile savages, disposing of us as such) tribes came from miles and miles away to a potlatch we called the 4th of July Celebration at Squaxin Island. That celebration must have had an impact, because an elder from Canada in his 70’s-80’s recalled when he was young an “old” elder claimed his favorite place was Squaxin Island. Culture got us through hard times and the assimilation that keeps us distant from culture and the apocalyptic measures of genocide that will continually go unaccounted for. 
They had to celebrate on the fourth of July because they didn't have the freedom to celebrate otherwise. In the early years of the Indian Shaker church, its members were arrested.

At the same time, the Lewis family was appropriating and pounding their chests about heritage and freedom, tribal members were being arrested and prosecuted all over western Washington for fishing. A right not reserved by God, but by treaty.

It would take only a little over three weeks for the fall chinook season to start and for two Puyallup tribal members, Bob Satiucum and Charles Cantrell, to be arrested for fishing. Just as illegal as it had been to be an Indian Shaker, it was still illegal to be an Indian fisherman in 1970. The Lewis family had the freedom to buy a totem pole and dress up like Indians, but actual Indians didn't have the freedom to be Indians.

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