“Today is an awesome day for me and especially the Kalispel people,” Francis Cullooyah, tribal elder, said. “I feel good about the smudging of the tree. I’m very thankful for the many blessings that our Creator has given us.”
On November 1, the Capitol Christmas tree was cut from the Colville National Forest in northeast Washington State, the ancestral homelands of the Kalispel people. It will be taken by truck across the nation to be erected, decorated and on display at the national mall in front of the U.S. Capitol through the holiday season.
The day was cool, the temperature hovering around the freezing mark and fog hung in the trees. Fires were lit for warmth and benches set up for those in attendance. Hot chocolate, coffee and cookies helped take the chill away.
The tree is an 88-foot Engelmann spruce, beautifully formed with dense foliage. Critical too is the fact it stood adjoining a forest road where the transport truck could reach it, some six miles from the nearest paved road. The precise age was yet to be determined, but a quick study of the tree’s base placed it at approximately 80 years.
Cullooyah did a smudging ceremony in private, in accordance with the culture, and later offered a memorial service, blessing this tree because of the feeling of peace and hope it brings throughout the world and around the nation. “The message we want to send from this tree is hopes that our Creator will help us in our hearts and in our minds. Today I want to thank you Grandfather Creator for putting us all together. This is my prayer for this beautiful tree and this beautiful place.”
The Frog Island Drum from the Kalispel Tribe performed two songs, an honor song and a traveling song in keeping with tribal culture.
The tree was cut from U.S. Forest Service lands and Colville National Forest Supervisor Laura Jo West talked of how long they had looked forward to this day. “This gift of the People’s Tree represents a commitment and a true labor of love by so many,” she said, mentioning the various sponsors, volunteers and school children around the state in addition to the tribes. “I would especially like to recognize the Snoqualmie Tribe and the Kalispel Tribe for their sponsorship and support of this project.”
School children around Washington State have created between 7,000 and 9,000 ornaments that will go to Washington, D.C. to decorate the tree. Another 80 smaller companion trees will also go to D.C. to decorate office buildings.
Kalispel Vice-Chairman Raymond Pierre III, also spoke. “Since time immemorial our Kalispel ancestors have lived in this region along this river called the Pend Oreille or ntxwe in our language. We appreciate the river and the forests and all that it offers. Today the forest is offering this beautiful Engelmann spruce to be the Capital Christmas tree, Washington’s gift to the entire nation.”
The tree was held upright by huge cranes during the cutting process to prevent damage to limbs were it allowed to fall. It was then gently lowered to the waiting truck having never touched the ground. It was viewed later that day in the nearby town of Newport, Washington, but then was wrapped for protection before its journey to Washington, D.C. The trip would first take it to Seattle, then southward through Utah to as far south as Dallas, Texas before heading northeast to its final destination.
A precise map of the tree’s 5,000-mile journey, including dates for each location, can be found at CapitolChristmasTree.com.