The name Puyallup (pronounced pyu-ALL-up) may mean either “the mouth of the river” or “generous and welcoming behavior to all people.” Some sources say it means “shadow,” referring to the dense shade forests near the mouth of the stream. The tribe’s name for itself was spuyáluhpabš or spwiya’laphabsh.
The Puyallup formerly lived along the Puyallup River in present-day Washington, west of the Cascade Mountains between central Oregon and southern British Columbia, Canada. In modern times they live near the Puyallup Reservation, which covers almost 100 acres near Tacoma, Washington, one of the only urban reservations in the United States.
The Puyallup and the Nisqually were long-time allies and were so similar that population figures often included both tribes. In 1780 the estimated total of both tribes was about 3,600 people. Following several major outbreaks of deadly diseases, an 1853 estimate listed 150 Puyallup, and a count in 1854 revealed only 50 people. In the 1990 U.S. Census, 1,013 people identified themselves as Puyallup. The 2000 census showed 1,545 Puyallup, and 2,069 people who were part Puyallup.
Origins and group affiliations
The Puyallup were part of a group called the Southern Coast Salish peoples. Tribes in this group included the Duwamish, Skokomish, Nisqually, Suquamish, Twana, Squaxin, and about forty others. The Puyallup were closely associated with the Nisqually, and generally maintained good relations with the Kittitas and Yakama. The Lekwiltok Kwakiutl, who raided the area, and the Cowichan were enemies of most Southern Coast Salish tribes.
The Puyallup have long been an active group, looking out for and acting in their own best interests. Rather than waiting for the government to provide for them, for example, they often start projects themselves. During the 1960s and 1970s they became leaders in the fight to restore Native fishing rights. The case went to court, and in 1984 the Boldt Decision upheld Native American rights to fish in their original territories, which they had been promised in treaties they signed in the late 1800s. Since then, the Puyallup have gained fame for what has been called the largest Native American land claim settlement in history.
Early European contact
European fishermen and explorers infected the Puyallup tribe with smallpox before the people ever saw their first white man. The first European to arrive in Puyallup territory was probably British explorer George Vancouver (1757–1798), who entered the Puget Sound and Hood Canal area in 1792. By then disease had seriously reduced the tribal populations in the region.
In 1827 the Hudson’s Bay Company, an important trading company, founded the Fort Langley trading post in the region where the Puyallup lived. The company founded Fort Nisqually nearby six years later. Soon, many of the Southern Coast Salish tribes were trading at these sites. From these exchanges, the Puyallup received firearms and frontier-style clothing, as well as potatoes. In 1839 and 1840 Catholic missionaries entered the northwest, and were successful in converting some of the Natives.
1792: British explorer George Vancouver makes first contact with the Puyallup.
1854: The Medicine Creek Treaty gives Puyallup lands to the U.S. government; Puyallup are sent to a reservation.
1855–56: A Native revolt against gold miners in their territory results in Yakima War.
1856: The Puyallup reservation is enlarged to 18,062 acres.
1900: Reservation lands are lost to railroad companies.
1936: The Puyallup form a tribal government.
1974: The Boldt Decision affirms Native fishing rights.
1984: The Puyallap receive a settlement of $77.25 million for land taken by the Port of Tacoma in 1950.
1996: The Chief Leschi School for Native-American students opens.
Settlers and miners
Isaac Ingalls Stevens (1818–1862) was the governor of Washington Territory as well as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the mid-1800s. He considered the Native tribes an “impediment to civilization.” He believed strongly in Manifest Destiny, a policy that held that the United States was meant to dominate the entire Western Hemisphere. Beginning in 1854, Stevens attempted to establish treaties with nearly every tribe in the Northwest, hoping to take over as much land as possible for white settlers. His goal was to place the tribes on reservations and convince the people to assimilate (adopt the white way of life).
In 1854 Governor Stevens convinced the Puyallup to sign the Treaty of Medicine Creek. Under this treaty, the Puyallup gave up a portion of their lands to the U.S. government. While some Native Americans moved to reservations, others refused. Stevens then announced that the lands formerly held by the Natives of the Washington area were available for settling, and white settlers trickled in. When gold was discovered in the area, prospectors and more settlers poured in, trespassing on tribal lands and farms.
Conflicts among the groups erupted in the Yakama War of 1855–1856. Some Puyallup joined the Yakama (see entry) and other groups in opposing white settlements and refusing to move onto reservations. The war lasted three years and accomplished very little for either side.
Loss of land
Soon after the war the U.S. government increased the original 1,280 acres the Treaty of Medicine Creek had granted to the tribe, and the people moved back along the Puyallup River onto 17,463 acres that became known as the Puyallup Reservation. The Natives soon adopted a white lifestyle. They farmed, attended Christian churches, and sent their children to schools run by whites. One observer claimed that the Puyallup were “the most creditable [praiseworthy] specimens of civilized Native Americans to be found in the West.”
Thirty years later the U.S. government divided the reservation land and gave individual tribe members 178 allotments (plots for farming). Only one small area, called the Indian Addition, stayed under tribal ownership. The rest of the land was sold to white settlers. Then in 1893 the federal government authorized the sale of Puyallup lands to commercial fishing companies. In addition, railroad companies acquired Puyallup lands in 1873 and again in 1899. The Puyallup claimed that they had been forced to give up their lands, but the sale papers bore the signatures of tribal people. By 1900 the Puyallup owned no land. The few remaining Puyallup lived in poor housing on scattered tracts of land along the banks of the Puyallup River.
State of Washington officials, who regulated hunting and fishing, arrested Puyallup fishermen for fishing in the river. The government argued that the Puyallup people were only permitted to fish on their reservation, but they no longer had a reservation. Tribal leaders brought a lawsuit against the United States in 1899 for loss of their lands, but they lost the case.
The struggle for rights
After 1900 the Native American population of western Washington greatly diminished, and Puyallup culture began to deteriorate. Marriage with whites became common, and problems with alcohol became more widespread. Religious rituals such as the potlatch (a gift-exchanging ceremony) disappeared due to the disapproval of religious and other authorities outside the tribe. Children were sent to English-speaking boarding schools, and older members of the tribe began speaking more English to make it easier to find work. As a result, the Puyallup language went into decline.
Treaties dating back to the nineteenth century between the U.S. government and the Native Americans of Washington guaranteed the Puyallup certain rights, including the “right of taking fish at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations … in common with all citizens of the [Washington] territory.” For more than one hundred years the meaning of the phrase remained in question as non-Native American settlers and then the state of Washington fought to control access to the region’s fisheries. In the 1960s, one Native American leader claimed that angry whites shot him while he was fishing; the local police doubted his story.
In 1970 some Tacoma, Washington, policemen used clubs and tear gas, which causes a painful burning sensation in the eyes, to arrest 59 protestors camped on the Puyallup River. Finally, during that same year, the century-old controversy was settled when the Natives won a federal lawsuit against the state of Washington. In 1974 federal judge George Boldt rendered the Boldt Decision, which allowed Native American fishermen half of all harvestable salmon and steelhead on their former fishing grounds.
Planning for the future
That year the Puyallup joined several others tribes to form the Northwest Fisheries Commission. This group carried out the provisions of the Boldt Decision, but it also actively fought for treaty rights. The following year the tribe drafted a Long-Range Management Plan to increase tribal control of fisheries, reduce non-Native fishing in their waters, and plan for seasons when fish harvests were low.
Several land claims that had been filed in the 1950s were settled in the 1970s as well. Cushman Indian Hospital and the Northeast Tacoma Clubhouse were both returned to them. The Clubhouse serves as a daycare, senior center, and meeting facility. The tribe also started their own credit union. In 1990 they received compensation for land claims that also included money in trust, individual payments, and promises to enhance social services, such as health care and education, over the next fifty years. In addition, they received some of their land—four parcels around the City of Tacoma.
Some money was set aside for economic development and land purchases. They also developed their law enforcement and tribal court system. In fall 1996 the Puyallup expanded their Chief Leschi School. This educational facility, started in 1975, serves as a model for Native American schools around the country, especially in its use of educational technology (see “Education”).
The Puyallup believed in a creator called the Transformer, who came into the world and taught the people many things. They thought spirits went to the land of the dead and could later be reborn. Puyallup looked to guardian spirits for guidance through life and help in becoming successful, but understood their own responsibility in remaining physically clean and pure.
Special powers were received from the spirit world during a ceremony called the vision quest (see “Puberty” below), and they were kept secret from other people. It was rude to ask about someone else’s spirit power and dangerous to talk about your own. Disrespecting spirit powers could cause bad luck, illness, or even death.
Some powers could be obtained only in certain geographic locations, and some only came to certain people, such as the shaman (pronounced SHAH-mun or SHAY-mun; medicine men). These powers were most important during ceremonies held in December and January, when spirits visited the people and assisted in rituals. Individuals often expressed their spirit powers through movements and songs during the Winter Dance (see “Festivals”).
Catholic missionaries converted many Puyallup to Christianity in the early 1800s, but some retained their Native beliefs. Presbyterians came in the 1870s, and some people adopted their faith. The Indian Shaker Church, a Christian religion blended with Native tradition, was popular among Natives of the Northwest in the early 1900s and found converts among the Puyallup.
All the Coast Salish tribes spoke different dialects (varieties) of the Coast Salish language, and the names of their villages came from the name of the dialect spoken by its residents. The Puyallup spoke the Southern Lushootseed dialect, although some scholars have named the tribe’s dialect Nisqually (see entry).
In the late 1990s there were only about thirty speakers of the Southern Lushootseed language, but efforts were being made to keep the language alive. For example, programs at the tribe’s Chief Leschi School (see “Education”) and other programs conducted around the Puget Sound teach the Puyallup language to children and adults.
The Puyallup, like many other Southern Coast Salish tribes, spoke a dialect (variety) of the Lushootseed language. (For additional words in this language, see Duwamish and Nisqually entries.)
- hígwuhl’iduhgwuhs … “brave man”
- stiqtiqíw … “horses”
- túbšuhduh’ … “warrior”
- gwigwia’ltxw … “longhouse”
- ’ácilhtalbixw … “villages”
- xwsalikw … “potlatches”
- luhluhlwá’suhd … “sleeping platform”
- si’áb … “leader, chief”
- xwuyubal’txw … “trading post”
- sxwúhqwuhb … “Thunderbird”
The village was the Puyallup’s principal political unit. Although there was no formal village leader, the wealthiest head of a house was generally accepted as the village headman. People in different villages were linked through marriage.
The U.S. Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934. According to that act, reservations wishing to receive certain government benefits had to form their own tribal governments and adopt a new constitution, rather than remain under the protection of the U.S. government. In 1936 the U.S. Department of the Interior approved the Puyallup constitution and its tribal government. The tribe is now governed by a seven-member elective tribal council. The tribe has health and law enforcement programs as well as a tribal court. A nine-member committee oversees funds for housing, senior citizens’ programs, education, cultural preservation, social services, and cemetery maintenance.
The Tribal Law Enforcement department has two components—one for people, the other for fish and wildlife. Police officers receive special training in New Mexico as well as in Washington state. The game law enforcement staff oversees fishing and hunting regulations and violations.
The Puyallup and other Coast Salish tribes kept in contact with their neighbors by canoeing from one seacoast village to another. Because of this constant interaction, they had similar lifestyles. Women and children gathered shellfish near the ocean and collected wild plants, such as camas bulbs (wild lilies), roots, and ferns. Men hunted and fished. Wealthy people sometimes employed their poor relatives to do domestic chores. They also kept slaves they captured during battles for their own use or traded them with other Native Americans for goods.
After signing the Treaty of Medicine Creek in 1854 (see “History”), the Puyallup supported themselves by selling fresh salmon to the new settlements around the Puget Sound. Efforts at farming and raising cattle on the reservation also proved to be quite successful.
In the late 1980s the Puyallup tribe voted to drop the claims to some very valuable ancestral lands near the city of Tacoma, Washington, in return for a payment of $162 million in cash, as well as other tracts of land and jobs for their people. This historic land claim settlement provided the Puyallup with a strong base on which to further their goals for economic growth.
In modern times human service programs that benefit the tribe employ nearly 1,500 people. Some of the programs also serve other Native Americans who have relocated to the Puyallup area. A tribal bingo operation and casinos provide jobs and are a major source of income for the tribe. Since the casinos began generating profits, each enrolled tribal member receives $2,000 a month. A marina, fisheries, service and retail businesses, a shipping company, and tourism also supply money and employment for many people. Puyallup International oversees the economic development of the tribe and is the largest employer.
Basic tribal groupings were the village, the household, and the family. A village might have one or more large plank homes and a few smaller ones. Each home held a household, usually consisting of a husband, his wife (or wives), their children, sometimes unmarried relatives, and for those who could afford it, a few slaves. Inside the house each family had its own living quarters and fireplace. Extended families had land in the village, where they owned exclusive rights to hunt, fish, and gather plants and weaving material.
Like other tribes in the region, the Puyallup built cedar plank houses, sometimes called shed-roof houses. Larger homes could reach 500 feet (152 meters) in length to accommodate the many families that lived within. The people had a spiritual connection to their houses and talked about them as if they were alive. They compared the frame to a body on its hands and knees; the front of the house was its face. The word for “human skin” was similar to the word for “wall.” The roof ridge was the house’s spine, and the elaborately carved and painted posts that held up the roof were referred to as limbs or pillars supporting the sky.
The houses also revealed status and relationships. The owner of the house lived in the back of the house, away from drafts. Common people slept along the sides, while slaves slept near the doorway. Where people lived and sat in the home indicated their societal position.
In summer people constructed temporary campsites using a pole frame covered by woven mats. They built sweathouses for purifying themselves.
Clothing and adornment
In summer Puyallup men wore nothing or only breechcloths (flaps of material that covered the front and back and were suspended from the waist). Women wore cedar bark aprons and skirts. In cool weather both sexes wore woven blankets made of mountain goat wool, and added leggings, shirts, and moccasins when it got colder.
Women tattooed their chins and legs and wore earrings and necklaces made of shell, teeth, and claws. Men also wore earrings, and wealthy people wore nose ornaments. The people decorated their faces and bodies with oil and paint. They generally wore their hair long and braided. Young men plucked out their facial hair, though older men let it grow.
Families moved from their permanent villages to temporary camps in spring and summer to collect their winter supply of food. Fish, especially salmon, was the primary food. Fishing in both salt and fresh water, they caught five kinds of salmon, steelhead trout, herring, smelt, flounder, flatfish, lingcod, rockfish, halibut, and sturgeon. They gathered shellfish, such as clams, crabs, sea urchins, and oysters. They hunted or trapped deer, elk, black bear, beaver, raccoon, marmot, wild game, and twenty kinds of waterfowl. They also gathered berries, roots, nuts, bulbs, and sprouts. The most important plants were bracken and camas. In the fall women gathered acorns and roasted them.
Glacial Mists Cooler
When the salmon are running in the spring, the Northwest tribes of Oregon and Washington celebrate with a salmon feast. Accompanying many such feasts is this drink offered by author E. Barrie Kavasch. The fruits may vary according to the season.
- 1 fresh lemon, the zest [yellow part of the skin with no white attached] grated and the rest squeezed and chopped [excluding the peel and seeds]
- squeezed juice of 2 more lemons
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1 teaspoon finely ground ginger root
- 1 teaspoon lime zest [green part of the skin with no white attached], plus the juice of the lime
- 1/2 cup crushed ice
Place lemon in a blender bowl. Add all other ingredients. Process for half a minute or so until you’ve created a fine, thoroughly slushed purée [a well-chopped mixture].
Fill 8 glasses with equal parts of crushed ice and sparkling spring water or seltzer (about 2 or 3 ounces in each glass). Add a fruity “glacial mist” to each glass. Perch a thin slice of lime or a fresh strawberry “fan” over the rim of each glass.
Serves 6 to 8.
Kavasch, E. Barrie Enduring Harvests: Native American Foods and Festivals for Every Season. Old Saybrook, Connecticut: Globe Pequot Press, 1995, p. 212.
During the second half of the 1800s the federal government opened special schools for the Puyallup. Henry Sicade (1866-1938), who attended the Puyallup Day School from ages seven to fourteen, described it as follows:
The one-room shack, built of rough lumber about 16 feet [5 meters] square, with one window and a door, contained a few rough benches, and to this primitive school five volunteer students, young men, came to attend each day. There was but one book for this pioneer class, no doubt some sort of a primer, and when the ambitious student had recited, he stepped out to the trail and returned to his primitive home. Each took his turn likewise.
Later boarding schools were started, and children stayed there during the school year. One goal of education during this period was to assimilate students (make them more like whites). Students could not speak their Native languages. They also learned trades: girls studied domestic duties, while boys did manual labor. Many boys objected to this because, in their tribes, those jobs were women’s work. Eventually federal funds for education were cut off, and tribal elementary schools closed in the early twentieth century. After that most students attended public school.
In the late twentieth century, however, the Puyallup tribe renewed its focus on education. They opened the Chief Leschi Tribal School in 1975 to serve the educational needs of Native Americans in their region and to keep their heritage alive. The school serves more than one thousand students from thirty different tribes in kindergarten through grade twelve.
Elementary school students learn both English and the Southern Salish languages. Each day begins with a prayer and “circle,” where students participate in Native dancing, singing, and drumming. Other programs offered by the school center on teen parenting, family and child education, and cooperative school-to-work vocational training programs. In 2004 Tacoma Public Schools and the Chief Leschi School received a three-year grant of $349,592 per year to improve Native American education and increase opportunities for Native students.
The Puyallup believed that serious illnesses were caused by foreign objects in the body or by the loss of one’s soul. While minor ailments could be cured by the use of herbs, more serious illnesses required a shaman’s care. Shaman had to remove the object that was causing the disease. Or they had to recapture the missing soul and return it to the sick person’s body.
While both men and women could become shaman, most shaman were men. Training for the position began at age seven or eight. Spirits communicated to the aspiring shaman what he or she should do to invoke the spiritual powers of healing. Most villages had shaman to protect them from evil outsiders.
In 1993 the Takopid Health Center opened, offering health care to over 250 tribes throughout the United States. More than ten thousand peoples of various tribal backgrounds, besides the Puyallup, living on or near the reservation, enrolled in the health center in 1990. In 2007 the center provided dental, medical, and community health services as well as a pharmacy, vision care, and physical therapy. They also had a substance abuse clinic, a mental health center, and a “spirit house.” All of the medical facilities offer both modern and traditional healing methods.
Puyallup woman, like others of the Salish Coast, produced outstanding textiles that had social and spiritual significance. They often carved whorls, the small wooden flywheels that control the speed of a spinning wheel. The whorls were carved with human, animal, and geometric designs. As the women did their spinning, they often stared at the whorls, which put them into a trance-like state. The Puyallup believed that this gave the spinner the ability to create textiles containing special powers. The ancient Puyallup art of weaving blankets was revived in the 1960s.
The Puyallup believed in a creator they sometimes called Dabábet’hw or the Transformer. He created food and language and made the world less dangerous. He also taught people how to make clothes, fire, fish traps, and medicine. The following tale is one of the few published Puyallup myths.
Over the land Dabábet’hw traveled, everywhere banishing evil, helping the needy, and teaching the ignorant. All the arts and industries the people then learned, and their games. Men were taught how to cure the sick and to baffle evil, and all were shown the mode of acquiring magic power from the spirits.
After a while the great teacher and transformer became hungry, and seeing a salmon leaping in the water he called it ashore, [put it on a spit], and placed it beside a fire. While it was broiling he fell asleep. Then came a wanderer, who, finding a salmon cooked and its possessor asleep, ate all the fish; and before departing he rubbed a little grease on the sleeper’s fingers and lips, placing also some bits of fish in his teeth. When Dabábet’hw awoke he detected instantly the trick that had been played upon him, and following rapidly he soon overtook the thief. As [the wanderer] sat gazing at his reflection in a stream, Dabábet’hw changed him to a coyote.
The news of the transformations wrought by Dabábet’hw preceded him, and caused some to fear him and wish that he might be slain. Such was a man whose occupation was the making of bone points for arrows, and who threatened that if the magic man came within his sight he would shoot him. But when Dabábet’hw actually appeared, the arrow-maker did not know him, and thought him to be an ordinary stranger. The traveler stopped to talk, and learning that he was preparing to slay the man of magic, Dabábet’hw disarmed him by thrusting the bone points into his wrists, at the same time sending him bounding away on all fours. The man, in fact, had been turned into a deer, the same as those which now roam the woods, and the pointed bones are now found in the legs of deer above the dew-claws.
Dabábet’hw now proceeded to the home of his grandmother, Toad, from whose care he had been stolen in his infancy. The Earth and all its creatures had been perfected, but it occurred to him that there should be more light. He therefore ascended to the sky and traveled across it by day in the form of the Sun. But he made the days, already warm, so hot that the people could not endure it. Therefore he bade his brother, who had been made from the cradle-board, become the Sun, and Dabábet’hw himself became the night Sun. Before he finally left the Earth he announced that he would take as his wife the girl who could lift and carry his great bundle of handiwork. Only the daughter of Frog was successful and she accompanied him to the sky; and to this day Dabábet’hw, Frog, and the bag may be seen in the Moon.
Curtis, Edward S. The North American Indian, Volume 9, 1911. Reprint. New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1970.
The Puyallup held winter dances called spirit dances, first salmon ceremonies celebrating the first catch of the year, and potlatches. Potlatches were ceremonies of gift giving, especially as offers of peace to other visiting tribes. The festivities included songs, dances, and games.
Winter dances were sponsored by an individual who had been diagnosed with an illness brought on by his guardian spirit—the spirit he had received earlier in life on a vision quest (see “Puberty”). This spirit was lodged in his chest in the form of a song. During the evening, his friends used drumbeats and phrases to draw out the song. They painted the sponsor’s face. Eventually, possessed by his power, he got up and danced and sang his song. Others joined in the performance, which was followed by a feast.
The first salmon ceremony honored the fish that made up almost 90 percent of the Puyallup diet. The tribe held the celebration at the start of the salmon-spawning season. They barbecued the first salmon caught in the year over an open fire, and gave small portions of the meat to everyone present. All the bones were saved intact. Everyone then went to the river for dancing, chanting, and singing. They placed the salmon skeleton in the water with its head pointing upstream in the direction a spawning salmon would go. This was to encourage the salmon to return in great numbers.
In modern times the Puyallup hold their Annual Powwow and Salmon Bake in Tacoma every Labor Day weekend. Monthly powwows at the Chief Leschi School, like all powwows, feature dancing and singing with drums.
Children were often named during the Winter Dance ceremonies. A child received an ancient family name as a link between the past and the future. Before Europeans came the Puyallup, like most Coast Salish tribes, flattened the heads of infants. This was accomplished by strapping boards to the babies’ foreheads to mold their skulls. A flattened forehead was considered an attractive feature.
A Puyallup girl was separated from the village at the time of her first menstrual period. During that time she was also expected to work, because that would make her industrious once she married. Afterward, a feast was held for the girl and her family.
Adolescent boys and girls embarked on vision quests, sacred ceremonies in which they went off alone and fasted, living without food or water for a period of days. During that time they hoped to learn about spiritual matters and have a vision of a guardian spirit who would provide help and strength throughout their lives. These quests took place in the winter, sometimes outside tribal territory, and usually under the guidance of a trainer.
Courtship and marriage
Arranged marriages were common among the upper class, generally to a person in a different village. The families of the bride and groom exchanged gifts with one other, and the bride’s family gave gifts to the young couple. Divorce was uncommon. After the death of a spouse the surviving husband or wife remarried within the same family to preserve their alliance.
A man could have multiple wives, and men often had wives of different ages. The older wives had the most power. Sometimes a man would marry all the sisters in a family. He had to undergo the entire marriage ceremony with each one of them. Sometimes men gave their wives to shaman or warriors to pay them for their services, and important men often received gifts of wives. Young girls were simply presented to them without any ceremony or exchange of goods.
War and hunting
To catch ducks and other waterfowl, the Puyallup hunted at night. They spread big nets across a series of tall poles that stood along the riverside. When a signal was given, the men came out of the darkness carrying lighted torches and making loud cries. The frightened birds flew off, hit the nets, and fell to the ground. The men quickly gathered up the stunned birds.
The Puyallup held wakes to which loved ones brought gifts for the deceased. Some mourners displayed their grief by biting their own hair. They usually buried the body in a box in the village cemetery, but sometimes they placed corpses in a canoe atop a cedar plank shed (in later years the sheds were made of canvas). A feast was held, and the deceased’s personal property was distributed among family and friends.
Current tribal issues
The Puyallup people are trying to increase their land base, develop human service programs for tribal and community members, and protect their fishing, environmental, trade, and tribal rights. Some disagreements over the use of tribal funds have arisen and have yet to be resolved.
On several occasions the Puyallup have had to defend their fishing rights. They have used tactics ranging from “fish-ins” (protest rallies) to lawsuits to draw media and government attention to the issue. In 1994 they went to court to preserve their rights to harvest shellfish. Judge Edward Rafeedie’s ruling followed in the footsteps of the Boldt Decision (see “History”), asserting the tribe’s right to half the shellfish taken each year.
Although the Natives won, many landowners did not know about the tribes’ treaty rights when they purchased their land. Realizing that harvesting shellfish could be disruptive to these landowners, the Northwest Indian Fisheries Committee (an organization that represents many Northwest tribes) negotiated a settlement with growers and the government. The three key pieces to this agreement include: 1) the tribes will forgo their rights to harvest about $2 million worth of shellfish from commercial growers’ beds; 2) growers will add $500,000 worth of shellfish to public tidelands for ten years; and 3) $33 million will be put in trust for the seventeen tribes to buy and enhance tidelands for their own use.
Ramona Bennett (1938–) has been active in tribal government for many years, including roles as principal administrator, controlling the budget, and chair of the Puyallup Tribal Council. She is a well-known spokesperson for Native American rights at the national level, particularly in the areas of fishing rights, Native American child welfare, and Native health and education. In 2003 the Native Action Network awarded her their Enduring Spirit Award.
Carlson, Keith Thor, ed. A Sto:lo-Coast Salish Historical Atlas. Vancouver, BC: Douglas and Mcintyre, 2006.
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Chehak, Gail, and Jan Halliday. Native Peoples of the Northwest: A Traveler’s Guide to Land, Art, and Culture. Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 2002.
Rogerson, George. Stillness of the Dawn. Bangor, ME: Booklocker.Com, Inc., 2007.
Uncommon Controversy: Fishing Rights of the Muckleshoot, Puyallup, and Nisqually Indians. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1970.
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Edward D. Castillo (Cahuilla-Luiseño), Native American Studies Program, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California
Daniel Boxberger, Department of Anthropology, Western Washington University