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Nootka Sound, George Vancouver Chart, 1792

In 1778, James Cook sailed into Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island, seeking the fabled "Northwest Passage" that would connect the Atlantic and the Pacific. He didn't find it, but the Nuu-Chah-Nulth--the Indian peoples of the western side of the island--became important trading partners for the English and other Europeans and Americans who flooded into the Northwest in Cook's wake. George Vancouver would return in 1792 to continue the search for the hoped for passage. He and his crew sailed through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and charted the inland group of waterways now called Puget Sound (after Vancouver's Lieutenant). Vancouver and his men thus pursued a colonial mission of charting and renaming the geography of the region (Mount Tahoma became Mount Rainier, for example). As they did so, they demarcated new social boundaries, quite literally drawing lines in the sand across which Natives were not to go. Yet the Europeans needed the Natives' skills and geographic knowledge to survive and move about in this terra incognito, and so the line separating the two cultures was habitually traversed, though not erased. Another round of the cultural collisions that had been shaking the Americas since the 1490s was set off, as Natives and newcomers sized each other up, traded, fought, and negotiated the terms under which a new world would be created. It's a process that is still ongoing, as the Puyallup and Nisqually, for example, continue to fight for their rights to the land and water in the area around Tacoma. As Judy Wright of the Puyallup says, "It makes little difference that the old homes and historic properties no longer seem to exist for many. They can be called by different names, and the ownership seemingly belongs to others. We will remember where they were, and still claim them as our homes. They are the usual and accustomed places of our ancestors."*

History is still in the making here, a "work in progress." At the University of Puget Sound, I have the opportunity to explore some of this living past in courses on Western, environmental and US history. To the left are links to syllabi for my courses, past and present, as well as some information about my own writing and research.

 

Tacoma, Washington Territory, 1884

 

 

* quoted from Judy Wright, "The Project: A Tribal Perspective," in Vashon Island Archeology (Burke Museum Publications, 2002).

 

douglas sackman
assistant professor of history
university of puget sound
contact: dsackman@ups.edu