The Battle of Madrona Point

The continuing dispute over a Lummi Burial Ground

In 1989 Madrona Point was returned to the Lummi Nation but what should have been a victory 100 years in the making continues to be a point of conflict between Native peoples and colonizers.

Sitting at the center of Orcas Island in the San Juans of Washington state is a tiny peninsula that juts into East Sound. Now known as Madrona Point, the Lummi nation has deep ties to this land. Madrona Point is where the Lummi buried their people for hundreds even thousands of years. Dean Washington, a member of the Lummi Nation and expert canoe builder, explains the cultural and historical significance Madrona Point and the surrounding land, “They didn’t just come here to fish... My dad’s people lived here for hundreds and hundreds of years. When this was still part of the mainland before they become islands.” This place which is central to Lummi culture and history has been the point of more than a century of conflict between Indigenous people and white colonizers.

The conflict started in 1887 when local American Indians attempted to stop the sale of Madrona Point by the Trustees of the Cemetery Association. After initial success, the state supreme court later ruled that the Cemetery Association had the right to sell off Lummi land.

In 1890 the land was sold to the Harrison family who promptly constructed an inn and several cabins. In 1967 the land shifted once again, to Norton Clapp, a wealthy white businessman from Seattle who announced his intention to construct condominiums right on top of Lummi graves.

The Lummi Nation and local whites banded together in a grassroots movement to save Madrona Point from commercialization. In 1989, 102 years after the fight began the Lummi were granted ownership of the land for the cost of 2.2 million dollars and an agreement to allow individuals and groups to utilize the area for walking and educational purposes. Native allies around the Salish Sea rejoiced at what seemed to be a hard-fought victory to protect their history and culture.

However, several visitors have littered and disrespected the land resulting in the Lummi Nation closing the area to visitors. Local community members are now challenging the Lummi' right to close the peninsula and tensions are rising.

Yet, the coalition of Orcas community members and Lummi people who saved Madrona Point from commercialization are working together once again to build a better future for their children. Organizers created the Kids and Canoes program as part of The Madrona Point Partnership for Restorative Justice project. This collaboration between the Orcas and Lummi communities is focused on creating a mutually beneficial and lasting relationship through educational and cultural programs.