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Originally published August 22, 2010 at 9:45 PM | Page modified August 22, 2010 at 10:20 PM

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155 years later, descendants of treaty signers gather to apologize, reconcile

The fourth-generation great-granddaughter of Chief Sealth, the great-great-granddaughter of Seattle pioneer David Denny and the descendant of Commodore Thomas Phelps of the U.S.S. Decatur, along with representatives from eight tribes, met 155 years and 8 months later, at the same location at Mukilteo Lighthouse Park, to commemorate the signing of The Point Elliott Treaty.

Seattle Times staff reporter

They came to reconcile and apologize for a treaty that ceded Native American land in exchange for reservations and fishing rights.

Among the more than 200 people who gathered Sunday against a Puget Sound backdrop: a fourth-generation descendant of Chief Sealth, the great-great-granddaughter of Seattle pioneer David Denny and the great-great-grandson of Commodore Thomas Phelps of the USS Decatur.

"We're hoping that this is a day of healing," said Mary Lou Slaughter, the descendant of Chief Sealth.

It's been 155 years and 8 months since the Point Elliott Treaty was signed. And the Sunday event at the same location — now Mukilteo Lighthouse Park — marked the first gathering of descendants of the treaty signers.

"There are not enough words to say that you're sorry," said Amy Johnson, chairwoman of the The Descendants Committee of Seattle, who coordinated the event, "Return to Muckl-te-oh." She is a great-great-granddaughter of Denny. "All we have to offer is today. Today marks a new beginning."

During the ceremony, representatives from eight tribes solemnly chanted and drummed. Many in attendance were dressed in period clothing — brightly colored colonial gowns or feather headdresses.

Nancy Shaw Morton's grandfather was Col. Benjamin Franklin Shaw, who translated for the governor at the treaty signing.

"We must heal with friendship because we are all Americans," said Morton, 70, who drove up from Portland. "It is important that we work together as a people."

The treaty deprived generations of Native Americans, many attendees said.

"Treaties are supposed to be the law of the land, but we owned all the land before this," said emcee Larry Campbell, a historian for the Swinomish Tribe.

Still, it was not a "peace treaty," said Democratic state Rep. John McCoy, of the 38th District, who has been working to bring this history into schools.

But these descendants offered peace. The Rev. James Kearny, a descendant of Thomas Phelps, the commodore of the ship who enforced the treaty against Native Americans, came to offer his apologies.

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"When you do any reconciliation, you expect anger," Kearny said. "But we are dealing with this directly, saying, 'Teach me. Let's start again.' "

Both sides offered prayers. Campbell and others wrapped blankets around the shoulders of the main speakers — a sign of appreciation.

Mas Odoi was one of those speakers. The 89-year-old Japanese American was 10 when he attended a 1930 monument ceremony that commemorated the treaty. The World War II veteran spoke about taking a positive attitude, like some Japanese Americans after being sent to internment camps during the war.

"If you have a negative attitude and just argue, nothing gets done," said Odoi, who was born in Mukilteo. During the internment, "I took a positive attitude and joined the Army. I became part of the 442nd Regiment, the most decorated unit of its size in the U.S. Army."

Recalling the 1930 event, he said it was a "very impressive celebration" that has stuck in his mind.

Dalenna Johnson, of the Snoqualmie Tribe, came with a group to offer songs of healing, of "what was and what will be."

"It's a spiritual lift," said Johnson, 34, who said her family goes back hundreds of years in the area. "It's a good reflection of better days to come. It's an honor to my ancestors."

The reconciliation ceremony was years in the making, said Amy Johnson, Denny's great-great-granddaughter. After finding holes in her son's elementary-school history lessons, she reconnected with her roots. She then began to work to increase awareness, raising money for the Duwamish Longhouse and then planning the commemoration.

At day's end, participants planted a pear tree to mark what happened.

"The people have come here for change and a new beginning," Amy Johnson said. "It starts with us."

Marian Liu: 206-464-3825 or mliu@seattletimes.com

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