“Save Luma”: Seattle Activists and Snoqualmie Tribe Unite to Protect Culturally Significant Tree Threatened by Real Estate Development

Amelia Carey // The Watchdog

Seattle activists and members of the Snoqualmie tribe are rallying behind the protection of Luma, a Culturally Modified Tree (CMT) in the neighborhood of Wedgwood. Some activists — called “tree sitters” — are even taking turns living in the tree to prevent it from being cut down. 

Legacy Group Capital is the real estate group wanting to cut down the tree in order to build houses. Activists want the group to go back to the original plan, which included both Luma and the six proposed houses. They argue that there is enough room for that compromise. Legacy Group Capital has not made any comments to the media at this time. 

Amelia Carey // The Watchdog

The chain link fence surrounding the tree site is decorated with homemade posters with statements like “If you love to breathe, save our trees” and “Love for land, Love for People, Love for ancestors.” 

On a table nearby, there were many flyers with various messages related to environmentalism and cultural preservation. They argue that, although Mayor Harrell claims to “promote tree protections,” he’s not living up to his promise. Activists went to the City Council on Wednesday to protest the City’s decision to “go against the advice of the Urban Forestry Commission on the latest Tree Ordinance.” 

Luma, the tree, is unique because it was recently identified by archeologists as a Culturally Modified Tree (CMT). Luma is a Western Red Cedar with double trunks, each around four feet in diameter, estimated to be around 200 years old. The double trunk was created when, as a sapling, the boughs were bent for accurate trail navigation.

The Snoqualmie Tribe explained in an article on their website, “Trees were chosen by local tribes and tended to in order to have branches trained to grow a certain way to indicate various sites. These bends can cause branches to jut upwards or bend gently. These CMTs are living signposts and are connected to the Snoqualmie people and others, who have been in the area known as Seattle, for thousands of years.” 

Another group advocating for Luma, and Seattle trees in general, is the campaign for The Last 6000. These tree activists aim to protect “majestic” trees: trees that have a “trunk diameter of 30 inches or greater.” As the name implies, the Last 6000 claims that there are only around 6,000 majestic trees left in Seattle. They ask citizens to locate and document these trees on their Google Form in order to keep track of their number.

Luma may just be one tree, but to many people, it is representative of a fight to keep culture and nature alive in Seattle.