Puyallup Indian Tribe

The Puyallup people constitute a Native American tribe residing on a reservation in western Washington's Puget Sound area. The reservation is unusual in that it lies within the city limits of several municipalities. The citified reservation is the home of more than 80,000 residents of various ethnic backgrounds.

The original name of the tribe was spwiya'laphabsh, meaning generous or welcoming. The tribe originally spoke the Puyallup Nisqually tongue of the Salishan family of languages spoken among Northwest Coast original peoples.

Salmon was the main food and an important object of veneration in Puyallup ceremonies. The Western red cedar was used extensively for shelter, clothing, and basketry. The Puyallup were fishers, gatherers, and hunters. They inhabited permanent dwellings along the riverbank. They were closely related to the Nisqually, a larger number of natives residing in the Nisqually River valley.

The first European settler of the Puyallup region was a Dr. Tolmie, who arrived in the early 1830s. He, an Indian guide, and a number of other natives made their way through the valley in which about 2,000 Puyallup lived. Many more settlers would aggressively encroach upon the area over the next couple of decades, which exerted a hugely negative impact on the Puyallup and neighboring tribes.

Finally, to try to shore up their way of life, the Puyallup tribe established relations with the U. S. government on December 16, 1854. Under duress, they and other tribes negotiated with Isaac Stevens, the Washington territorial governor and Indian agent. The result was the Treaty of Medicine Creek, by which the tribes ceded most of their territories, but reserved certain lands and rights — including fishing rights.

The Puyallup reservation was established by the treaty and originally comprised 1,280 acres. On January 20, 1856, the reservation was enlarged to 18,062 acres. The people raised wheat, oats and hay on natural meadows near tidal flats on the reservation. Article 10 of the treaty provided for a physician to address the health needs of the Puyallup tribe.

Beginning with the 1877 Dawes Act, a congressional allotment program, the Puyallup reservation was broken up. To encourage farming, Congress authorized the division of reservation land among individual Indians with the exception of a tribal cemetery; much of the land is now in the city of Tacoma. Tacoma's growing population spurred locals to seek removal of restrictions on allotted reservation lands.

On March 3, 1893, an act provided for the selection of allotment portions that were not required for Indian homes, and part of a tract that wasn't required for school purposes. The selected acreage was put up for sale by public auction. The 1893 statute provided that reservation land not sold would remain in Indian hands and not be sold for 10 years. Following that decade, non-Indians could transact directly with Indians. Half of the reservation was sold during that time.

Under the auspices of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, which promulgated new rights for Native Americans, the tribe drafted a constitution that was approved by the secretary of the interior on May 13, 1936. The governing body was dubbed the Puyallup Tribal Council.

Bob Satiacum, a proponent of Native American rights — in particular treaty fishing rights — was a well-known Puyallup tribal leader in the 1960s and '70s. Satiacum first gained notoriety in 1954, when he was apprehended for fishing unlawfully in the Puyallup River at Tacoma. He believed that he had a right by treaty to fish there. Satiacum was convicted; however, the Washington State Supreme Court overturned his conviction.

Years of legal disputation followed over the issue. In addition, "fish-ins" were staged by Satiacum and his supporters, including Marlon Brando, who lent celebrity status to the effort. Eventually, the historic Boldt Decision of 1974 was handed down, which held that treaties signed with native tribes and the federal government in the 1850s entitled the tribes to 50 percent of the total fish harvest.

On February 20, 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that a dozen acres acquired by the Port of Tacoma in 1950 properly belonged to the Puyallup. President George H.W. Bush signed a bill that settled Puyallup tribal claims. The tribe was compensated in the amount of $77.25 million.


See Indian Wars Time Table .
See also
Native American Cultural Regions map .

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