Remembering Chief Si’ahl and Camilla Knatvold with Gratitude

Stacy and Steve Carlson

Black and white portrait of Chief Si'ahl (a.k.a. Chief Seattle or Chief Sealth) sitting on a chair

What is abundance? And how does a caring person respond to the abundance they may have received? These questions and more we found ourselves wondering in this season of harvest and reflection.

Our wondering led us to stories of two local ancestors: Chief Si’ahl of the Duwamish tribe, and Camilla Knatvold of University Unitarian Church.

As a child, Chief Si’ahl saw the arrival, and his father’s welcoming of, Captain George Vancouver to Puget Sound in 1792. In the years following, Si’ahl became a strong and courageous leader, even as he witnessed disease epidemics brought by British and American traders which would wipe out 30% or more of his people’s population. In 1851, Si’ahl and Duwamish tribal members greeted the first European-American immigrants when they arrived at Alki Point; and in the years following, Si’ahl and his people worked hard to be protectors and benefactors of the immigrants, sharing their knowledge and resources: 1) canoe transportation and guiding; 2) potatoes from cultivated fields near Renton; 3) knowledge of how to feed their children by substituting clam juice for milk; and 4) how to split the mighty cedar tree into straight-grained planks to build shelter. A legacy of generous spirit and generous action.

Camilla Knatvold, much like ancestors of our own family, was born to Norwegian immigrant farmers in South Dakota in 1887. She and her family moved to Washington in 1905, and a little over one hundred years ago, she and her family moved to Seattle, where Camilla lived the rest of her life in the house built by her father in the Rainier Valley. Camilla joined UUC in 1951, when it was still located in the University District, and was active in Unitarians for Social Justice and the Women’s Alliance. Camilla was also keenly interested in the music program, and she gave UUC its first grand piano in 1963. With an eye to the future of the UUC she had come to love, Camilla made a generous gift in 1969, as well as a generous bequest—which was fulfilled upon her death in 1981—establishing UUC’s first endowment fund. This endowment fund has grown substantially over the years as many other members have contributed to it, and the earnings from the fund support the mission and vision of this church in many ways large and small. Another legacy of generous spirit and generous action.

In recognition of the land on which we now live, and in honor of Si’ahl and the generosity of the Duwamish people, we have decided to become RealRenters. With gratitude for the leadership and generosity of Camilla Knatvold, and so many others before us at UUC, we are members of UUC’s Camilla’s Circle, a group of over 60 current members of UUC who have joyfully made gifts—or gift commitments in our wills—to UUC’s endowment. All are welcome to join us in this commitment of hope for the future of our beloved community and our work in the world. Both Chief Si’ahl and Camilla Knatvold reflected on the communities they loved and the abundance they had been given, and extended their welcome and generosity as they looked to the future with great anticipation. May we also. Blessings.

Stacy and Steve Carlson, November 2021

1 Response

  1. Thank you for history new to me. It gives me such an enlarging feeling for place and good people.