The Lummi Nation rocked the house last week with a sold-out performance at Bellingham High School of What About Those Promises? an original historical stageplay about the tribe’s way of life and connection to nature, and how both were disrupted by promises broken in the Treaty of Point Elliott, signed in 1855.
More than 800 people packed the high school auditorium the evening of June 1 and the tickets, at $10 a piece to benefit the Lummi Youth Academy, sold out. Who says the public doesn’t care about history?
Nationally renowned law professor Charles Wilkinson provided the history of the treaty made, and the promises broken, including the incredible story of the tribe’s refusal to take the paltry settlement offered by the U.S. Government in a long-running dispute over lands promised in the treaty, but left out of the Lummi reservation.
Elder Tom Sampson set the tone with a creation story that explains how the tribe is inseparable from the natural world that sustains its spiritual and cultural life. Listeners of course knew where all this is headed, if they know any history at all, yet the play is powerfully affecting.
Traditional songs by the Crab Bay Singers and a wolf dance transport the listener to a distinctly native sensibility, as do the sounds of the tribe’s language, in soliloquies by native speakers.
Just as affecting are the members of the cast playing the roles of clam digger, fishermen, sea lion hunter and berry picker, and their pleas to Gov. Isaac Stevens, as he pushes the tribe to sign the treaty, to understand the importance of the animals, the plants, the clams and the land to the people’s way of life. All the while, a desperate Chief Seattle urges the tribesmen gathered at the treaty council grounds not to sign…but they do.
Produced by tribal council member Darrell Hillaire and directed by Dennis Catrell, the production is based on an original stage play by the late Joseph Hillaire. Historical images from the tribal archives and other sources, projected on a large screen behind the players, add to the production’s power.
The tribe has agreed to put the play on again to conclude its annual Stommish Water Festival, June 13-16.
What About Those Promises? will be be performed at 7 p.m. at the Event Center at the Silver Reef Casino on Sunday, June 16.
The casino is on Haxton Road, reached from exit 260 off I-5, outside Bellingham.