Tribe Calls for City to Preserve Culturally Modified Tree (CMT)

[Snoqualmie, WA] – Earlier today, after a formal assessment of the exceptional western red cedar in the City’s Wedgwood neighborhood by archaeologists, the Snoqualmie Tribe declared the tree to be a culturally modified tree (CMT) and submitted the necessary paperwork to declare the CMT and the area directly surrounding it as an archaeological site under both Tribal and Washington State law. An archaeological permit under State law, under a process handled by the State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP), is now required before the developer, Legacy Capital, can take any action to remove the tree.

On Wednesday, representatives from the Tribe and State DAHP urged Nathan Torgelson Director of Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections and other City representatives to take action to stop the removal of the CMT. To the shock of the Tribe, the City claimed their hands were tied and that there was no ability for them to stop the proposed development – despite the acknowledgement that the City knows the tree is an archaeological site in an area of historical and cultural significance.

“Both the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe and the State of Washington communicated to the City that the improperly granted permit should be immediately revoked and the private developer stopped from demolishing a culturally modified cedar tree which has stood for over a century,” said Jaime Martin, Executive Director of Governmental Affairs & Special Projects for the Tribe. “However, the City has chosen to ignore these concerns and has taken no action to address the valid grievances raised by the Tribe and the State. Seattle, a city that often apologizes for past injustices inflicted upon Indigenous Peoples, shows a shocking level of indifference and dismissiveness towards the harm it is currently causing by desecrating this Tribal archaeological site.”

Condemnation of the City’s inaction has been swift. Upon hearing about the issue, Washington State House and Senate Natural Resource Committee Chairs Senator Kevin Van De Wege and Representative Mike Chapman issued a joint statement, stating “It is hypocritical for Seattle politicians to advocate to enforce environmental and cultural resources protections on forests in rural areas while their own city government openly ignores and flouts those same basic protections when it comes to permitting development within their own city. The State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation has concluded that the site in question is a verified tribal cultural resource and archaeological site, and the city should live up to its purported values and stop their permitting process to consult with the area Tribes and the State to ensure they are adequately protecting a resource that is irreplaceable.”

Washington State Senator Yasmin Trudeau remarked “The lack of housing units across our state is an important one to address. However, housing development cannot come without sufficient review of environmental impacts and potential impacts on tribal and cultural sites. I ask the City of Seattle to pause, reflect, and reassess their current permitting process and work with Tribal and State officials to remedy this issue immediately. I remain committed to working on how we can continue to build needed housing and avoid harms to our environment and relationship with tribal governments in the future.”

Without further action from the City of Seattle, the CMT is slated to be cut down as early as Friday, July 21st according to signage posted at the site. The loss of this archaeological and cultural resource is unacceptable.

“We understand the need for additional housing, but with only 13% of Seattle and 2% of the state examined for significant cultural resources such as archaeological sites, sacred places, and culturally modified trees, we need to find a balance between development and protecting the resources that represent the history and culture our local tribal partners,” said State Historic Preservation Officer Dr. Allyson Brooks.

Snoqualmie Tribal staff first became aware of the scheduled destruction of the CMT, named “Luma” by advocates for its protection, on July 13th via social media posts shared online. Tribal staff visited the site and observed the tree visually as a CMT that morning, and the Tribe immediately notified the City of Seattle the same day that it was opposed to the removal of the tree. The Tribe also shared a public post through its Snoqualmie Tribe Ancestral Lands Movement later that day stating the Tribe’s opposition to the removal of the CMT.

Since Time Immemorial, the Snoqualmie People used an extensive trail system to reach fishing, hunting, and gathering places and to visit relatives across the region. Along these trails, there would be temporary camps and areas with traditional foods and medicines. These locations would be marked by shaping the boughs of a tree (often cedar trees) in certain directions, creating what are known today as Culturally Modified Trees (CMTs). Today, CMTs can be found all throughout the region along waterways and modern-day roads, which are often built upon traditional trail systems. Trees were chosen by local tribes and tended to in order to have branches trained to grow a certain way to indicate various sites. These bends can cause branches to jut upwards or bend gently. These CMTs are living signposts and are connected to the Snoqualmie people and others, who have been in the area now known as Seattle, for thousands of years.