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CHELHTENEM ­ LILY POINT STORY

Point Roberts formed from the sand and gravel outwash of retreating glaciers 15,000 years ago. The highest reach of this glacial deposit, some 200 feet above the sea at the southeast corner of Point Roberts, is Lily Point, or, in Native Salish language Chelhtenem, "hang salmon for drying."

Point Roberts was an island until the Fraser River delta grew to connect it to the mainland. In 1846, Point Roberts again became an island, not geographically but politically, when the United States and England signed a treaty establishing the international border with Canada at the 49th parallel, severing Point Roberts from the U.S. mainland.

Archeologists date the earliest human occupation of the Point Roberts at 9,000 years ago. A Spanish explorer reported "an incredible quantity of rich salmon and numerous Indians" at Lily Point in 1791. A year later Peter Puget, an officer with Captain Vancouver, described a seasonal village at Lily Point with houses for 400 to 500 people. The close passage of salmon around Lily Point on their way to their home waters in the Nooksack and Fraser Rivers undoubtedly inspired placement of the village.

Lily Point was the most important Native reef net fishery and one of the most significant salmon fisheries of the Central Coast Salish. In 1889, 16 Native reef nets were in operation and a single net would catch as many as 2,000 fish a day. A newspaper reported in 1881 that three reef nets took 10,000 fish in six hours.

For many centuries Chelhtenem was a center of traditional salmon culture and a place of great spiritual power for Native Peoples. The First Salmon Ceremony honored the returning salmon and directed them into the reef nets. The bones of the first fish "were carefully returned to the sea where the fish regained its form and told other salmon how well it had been treated, thus allowing the capture of other fish and insuring a return the following year." (Application for inclusion of Chelhtenem ("Lily Point") in the National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property, 1992).

In the late 19th century, non-Indian fish traps displaced traditional reef nets. Alaska Packers purchased a year old cannery at Lily Point in 1884. The cannery was abolished in 1917, leaving pilings and debris still visible today. Chelhtenem was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1994 as a site of National Cultural, Traditional and Spiritual Significance, the second place in Washington State receiving such a designation.

Point Roberts is only a half hour drive from Vancouver. As the city flourished in the latter part of the 20th century, development pressure grew at Point Roberts. After Welsh Development, Inc. acquired Lilly Point, Whatcom County approved a major development for condominiums, a golf course, 74 residential lots, and a regional recreational resort on properties including Lily Point. For reasons unknown, the developer allowed the permits to expire in 2003 without beginning construction. Lilly Point is now on the market.

Two multimillion-dollar transactions in the last three months indicate the accelerating pace and scale of development at Point Roberts. One of the transactions involves a proposed 103-house gated community less than 500 feet west of Lily Point. Whatcom County owns three of the four corners of Point Roberts ­ Monument Park, Lighthouse Park and Maple Beach, the latter of which was given to the county by Whatcom Land Trust encumbered by a restrictive conservation easement. Only Lily Point, by far the most ecologically important of the four corners, remains exposed to development.

By whatever mix of spirit and ecological powers, Lily Point remains a place of prolific productivity just as it was when Salish people evoked spirit powers to ensure the return of the salmon to Chelhtenem and direct migrating fish to the reef nets.

The site is known for numerous eagles, heron, and loons. In addition, some of the largest migratory salmon runs have come to this point as they make passage to the Fraser River. In addition, the area is abundant in clams and crabs, and features a rich marine ecosystem. Indeed, Chelhtenem has changed little in historic period; it still reflects the landforms, vegetation, and water resources that attracted and sustained the original inhabitants and their descendants.

(Application to national Historic Register). Perhaps by the grace of a spirit power, the plentiful natural heritage of Lily Point is still ours to preserve, but the opportunity will pass if we do not act.

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