Land acknowledgement, inclusivity among topics as Snohomish tribal leader addresses diversity commission

Pamela SeaMonster speaks to members of the Edmonds Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Commission during their Nov. 1 meeting in the Edmonds City Hall Brackett Room.

Since time immemorial, the Snohomish and other Puget Salish People tell stories to their children about Basket Ogress to prevent them from wandering too far from home. She stands 11 feet tall and carries a basket into which she put children that she was going to eat.

“She loves the taste of disobedience,” said Pamela SeaMonster, cultural educator and vice chair of the Snohomish Tribe. “She would wait for them, hiding behind the trees and the shadows. She would lie and wait with a handful of berries that would put a child to sleep so she wouldn’t have to hear them scream while she ate them. The devourer of the future.”

Pamela SeaMonster tells the story of the basket orgress who eats disobedient children.

SeaMonster told the story of the Basket Ogress at the City of Edmonds Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Commission (DEIA) meeting Nov. 1 to inaugurate National Native American Heritage Month. She recalled being an Edmonds School District student when the district started an Indian education program at the request of an Indigenous woman named Mabel Norris. 

During her presentation, SeaMonster also spoke about the City of Edmonds land acknowledgement statement, which the city council has been reciting since 2019 and implies that the Snohomish people used to be here. “We’re still here,” she said. “We’re still doing all kinds of things in the community. The echoes of our ancestors are still here.” 

She referred to a village in Edmonds known as a “summer village” — a place where her ancestors would live for six to eight months in dwellings that could be disassembled and relocated. During the winter months, they would live in villages that had permanent dwellings. She did not disclose the exact location so as not to be intrusive. However, she said she would be happy to arrange a small “field trip” there in the future.

According to SeaMonster, this ancestral village is one among many gathering villages that dot the Salish Sea. The Snohomish would invite other people of the Puget Sound region to their territory where the gathering was plentiful, and they could share food and stories. Greed was considered a crime among the First People.

Edmonds DEIA Commissioner Pam Iverson listens to Pamela SeaMonster’s remarks.

“All these villages, all these Lushootseed people would never have been turned away; they would have been invited in,” SeaMonster said. “That’s really what Edmonds should be about: inviting people in. Inclusiveness…inclusiveness.”

She read the current land acknowledgement statement that the Edmonds City Council had approved in 2019 and pointed out some of her concerns, including the word “successor” in the first sentence. “We have not been ‘succeeded’,” she said. “We are still sduhubš. We’re all still here. We signed the treaty.”

The treaty refers to the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855 (ratified in 1859), where the U.S. government ceded lands to the Coastal Salish people. It granted hunting and fishing rights and reservations to all tribes represented by the Indigenous signers, including nearly all tribes from Auburn to Bellingham.

“So it shouldn’t say ‘their successors the Tulalip’ since the Tulalip tribe were included?” asked an Edmonds resident who was in attendance. 

“They’re talking about Snohomish territory. They’re Snohomish,” SeaMonster replied. “There’s Duwamish, they’re an incorporation of tribes because a lot of tribes got put on a little tiny piece of land, and some of us were like, ‘how are you on this little piece of land, how will we eat and hunt?’ Again, I would just say, ‘the Snohomish people.’ We don’t have to say ‘the Snohomish Tribe.’ We don’t have to get into the politics and ugly, but we can support people, and the first people of this place, the Sdohobsh. That would be my request.”

She also added that land acknowledgements “are not for Indigenous people.”

“We know exactly where we are,” she said. “Land acknowledgements are for colonizer relatives to give, to understand who were the first people, to have action behind their statements. We would never ask our African American relatives to give the labor statement. And so we would not have Indigenous people come and do a land acknowledgment. However, we could do a blessing.”

She finished reading the land acknowledgment, then asked, “Are you acknowledging it with some action?”

SeaMonster recalled her meeting with Mayor Mike Nelson last May about possibly putting a botanical garden in Edmonds that features native plants in the area. She was part of a team that helped build the “Stolja Ali” – Place of Medicine Ethnobotanical Garden – at Gold Park in Lynnwood in 2009. Since then, she had led tours for more than 600 local students each year. 

“We have an Indigenous name for that plant, an English name for that plant…a Harry Potter name for that plant,” SeaMonster laughed. “We invite people to learn about all the indigenous plants that are right here next to you. And also [we] invite the community to plant indigenous plants in their yard to naturally create a block for water runoff, to naturally create wildlife back into your yard. Making food and medicine gardens in your yard. Things that the tribe – your hosts – to share how to live, how to walk softly on Mother Earth. We would love to share those kinds of things with you.”

Pamela SeaMonster speaks to the group.

So what is the best way for people to engage and amplify indigenous voices? 

“Call me up!” SeaMonster answered. “Ask us. And action, yes! I would never come without a suggestion for action.”

Among her ideas were creating gardens or a Snohomish cultural center where people can gather and have a place for open communication, culture sharing and perform ceremonies and blessings, including the salmon ceremony.

“I don’t see any longhouses here in Edmonds,” SeaMonster said. “Maybe you want to build a longhouse for the Snohomish people….Those kinds of things that [acknowledges] that you’re occupying stolen land would mean your action is to say, ‘Oh yes, I know that’s where I’m at, but in addition to knowing where I’m at, I’m going to provide opportunities to the people who make up 2% of the population in the United States – the First People. 

“We’re going to allow them to welcome us to be here,” she continued. “So maybe if you have a really good idea, you come to the tribal council or come to someone like me on the council, and you say, ‘I have this wonderful idea, and I want to ask permission if we can do this.’ That’s action, relatives. That means you’re acknowledging the people who have been for all time.”

For more information about the Snohomish, contact Pamela SeaMonster at

— Story and photos by Nick Ng

  1. I appreciate the wisdom of SeaMonster. We are on native land. I welcome more opportunity to honor and learn from First Nations people.

    1. It’s been my great honor to work with Pamela SeaMonster for some years now, first on, and now in uplifting Indigenous placekeeping at Bellevue College. She is a treasure in our community! I encourage others to invite her to share Indigenous wisdom and ‘Yehow!’

  2. On South Whidbey Island, the sduhubš (Snohomish) have resided for time immemorial and in recent years Pamela SeaMonster and others have been blessing us by bringing back their traditions and generously sharing their respectful and courageous ways with us ‘new’ people. I highly recommend consulting with Pamela and engaging her in your community as a person who carries teachings in so many ways of our First Peoples. With her wisdom, working with the young and old, we can learn how to come into right relationship with one another. I am honored to know her.

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