Joggers jumped in place to stay warm in the cool, foggy elements. A tribal elder shared the despair of the past and hope for the future. Schoolchildren warbled songs in the Nisqually language to drumming.
It was the opening ceremony of "Honor & Celebration of Brothers," which fêtes the lives of Chief Leschi of the Nisqally Tribe and his half-brother, Quiemuth.
"To me, it’s phenomenal that we’ve reached a point that a Native American who was executed is honored and recognized," said John LaPointe before preparing to run 12½ miles from Lakewood to Chief Leschi School in Puyallup. "In the most elementary sense, he was a true American – fighting for freedom, fighting for democracy, fighting for his people."
A group of about 100 people met in Lakewood near a marker erected in honor of Leschi. Three hundred yards away, the engraving reads, the chief was hanged 150 years ago today.
The celebrations will continue later today with a series of runs to places significant to the Nisqually Tribe and ending at Chief Leschi School. There, organizers will service lunch and present speeches and drumming ceremonies.
The state government now admits Leschi was wrongfully executed. After realizing how little the Nisqually Tribe received in the 1854 Medicine Creek Treaty, Leschi and others resisted, setting off a period of sporadic violence that lasted for several months.
Bands of Indians burned settlers’ farms and killed families, sometimes mutilating the bodies. Whites responded by indiscriminately hunting down and killing Indians, including those who had not taken up arms.
When things settled down late in 1856, Territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens granted most of the Indian combatants amnesty – but not Leschi or Quiemuth. Stevens issued a warrant for their arrests, charging Leschi with the murder of a militiaman named Abram Moses.
It was never clear whether Leschi killed Moses. At two trials, he and others insisted he had not, and his attorney argued that, even if he had, the act occurred during wartime and therefore should not be regarded as murder.
The jury convicted Leschi, and he was hanged Feb. 19, 1858.
After Leschi’s first trial, Quiemuth turned himself in to government authorities in Olympia. That night, while in protective custody in the governor’s office, intruders shot him in the arm and stabbed him in the heart.
No charges were ever filed.
"This is a healing process today," said Cecelia LaPointe-Gorman, a Swinomish tribal member and a linguistic historian.
Other participants stressed the educational benefit of the ceremonies. Treye McKinney moved to Washington as a teenager and didn’t learn about Leschi in school. He was running Tuesday to stand in solidarity with oppressed people, he said.
And some hope it will have a positive impact on the community,
"I asked my aunt about Leschi and the treaty," said James McCloud, a Nisqually tribal elder and historian. "She said, ‘That was the beginning of the end.’
"We’re beginning again today."