Suquamish Indian Tribe

The tribal name, Suquamish, is derived from the tribe's ancestral village name, D'Suq'Wub, on the shores of Agate Pass. A small park on the Port Madison Reservation memorializes the original village site. The reservation and the village of Suquamish are less than an hour's drive from downtown Seattle.

The Puget Sound area was inhabited by First Peoples of several tribes and bands for several millennia before Europeans arrived. The Suquamish are descendents of peoples who lived in the region. Their dialect was Lushutseed, a variant of the wider Salish language. Their traditional territory was lands and waters in what is now southwestern Canada, northwestern Washington's Whidbey, Blake and Bainbridge Islands, and most of what is now Kitsap County.

The Suquamish culture flourished from interaction with, and veneration of its bountiful environment. Tribal members were master fishers, canoe builders and basketmakers. They also gathered berries and roots, and fashioned items for spiritual ceremonies.

Fishing was the central pre-contact food source. Sound waters were the principal fishing grounds; salmon were harvested with nets, hooks, and line. Smaller fish were gathered into canoes by means of long rakes equipped with wooden spikes.

The canoe was the Suquamish's primary tool. Most canoes took form out of a cedar tree. They were an essential means of travel as well as fishing.

Tight-mesh baskets were used for berry-picking expeditions, dry storage, and even holding liquids and cooking. Open-mesh baskets were used to gather seafood, including seaweed; the contents were rinsed and such unwanted material as sand washed through. The purse basket evolved following the white settlers' appearance around the Puget Sound; it was designed to carry trading items.

Like other aboriginal groups, the Suquamish transmitted traditions orally and by example from the old to the young. Respect for elders and traditional leadership, which included royalty and hereditary leaders, lay at the core of pre-contact tribal government.

Seattleš (or Sealth), a hereditary leader of the Suquamish Tribe, was born around 1786 and died on June 7, 1866. His remains rest in Suquamish. Seattle is remembered for accommodating the early Anglo-European settlers of Alki Point (later West Seattle), and as a negotiator/peacemaker. He also was an eloquent orator. A quotation attributed to Seattle:

"When the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses all tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with the scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires, where is the thicket? Where is the eagle? Gone."

The Suquamish kept the peace with the Anglo-European settlers, but had numerous run-ins with other tribes, especially the Duwamish whose land they coveted. The two tribes lost population partly because of Suquamish aggression. However, they also traded with other neighboring tribes and the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Nisqually.

The tribe came under influence of French Catholic missionaries in the late 1830s. The leader Seattle was so favorably impressed by them that he accepted Christianity and was given the name Noah at baptism.

Bowing to white dominance in the Puget Sound region, the Suquamish and others became signatories to the Point Elliott Treaty on January 22, 1855. The document established the Port Madison Indian Reservation, situated on two sides of Miller's Bay, for the Suquamish. Kitsap, the tribal leader at the time, took issue with the treaty and elected not to live there. The original tract was approximately 1,300 acres, but was enlarged to nearly 8,000 acres by a presidential executive order of October 21, 1864. The original residents were primarily Suquamish and a few from other tribes included in the treaty. Initially, the entire reservation was held and used exclusively by the tribe. However, the treaty was compromised by manipulations meant to ease Anglo-European land acquisition. The Suquamish and all other Northwest natives were misadvised and mistreated by most non-Indians.

From the 1880s to the 1920s, the Suquamish began to experience a transformation from ancestral lifeways to the ways of the dominant American culture. A county government had been formed in the area (1857) and Washington became a state (1889).

In the 1880s, the federal government commenced to distribute reservation land allotments to Indian individuals, in an attempt to induce an agrarian lifestyle. On June 4, 1887, the program went into effect on the Port Madison Reservation. About 5,910 acres were allotted to 39 natives, and 1,375 acres remained unassigned. Many residents were relocated from their accustomed shoreline homes to upland plots. As it turned out, they did not farm much on their allotments, preferring, rather, to cling to their fishing and hunting customs.

The Suquamish family also faced disruption. Early in the 20th century, all tribal children from the ages of four to 18 were plucked from their parents and packed off to government boarding schools in Tacoma and Marysville. The rationale was to assimilate them into American ways and mores.

The children missed out on tribal activities laden with traditions when they were away during the winter. They were not allowed to speak their native tongue, nor could they practice any Suquamish customs they still knew. The pupils were administered corporal punishment for any deviation from the rules. The administrations exploited the children for labor at the schools. The institutions also doubled as sick bays when there were rampant illnesses; numerous children died from whooping cough and measles, to which they had no inherent immunity.

Parents were threatened with jail if they refused to hand over their children. The threats were baseless, but convincing. The alternative for families was to move off the reservation — those who did, unwittingly relinquished title to their land. Most incarceration threats were tricks to acquire land, which departing families learned after their property was purchased by non-Indians.

Tribal leadership formed a constitution on May 23, 1965, as an Indian Reorganization Act government.

Also in the '60s, the tribe sought compensation from the Indian Claims Commission for 87,130 acres ceded to the United States under the Point Elliott Treaty, valued at $78,500 in 1859. On October 22, 1970, the commission ruled they were entitled to $36,329.51. On January 21, 1996, the commission announced that the tribe should receive an additional $42,170.49.

In 1973, the tribal government adopted a reservation law and order code that was enforced upon resident Indians and non-Indians alike. However, in the case Oliphant v. Suquamish Tribe (1978), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that "Indian Tribal Courts do not have inherent criminal jurisdiction to try and to punish non-Indians, and hence may not assume such jurisdiction unless specifically authorized by Congress to do so."

On May 25, 1993, the 11-paddler canoe, Raven, departed the reservation on a 576-mile journey to Bella Bella, British Columbia. The trip led up to the June 27-July 3 Qatuwas Festival, intended to foster unity among coastal tribes and bands.


šAfter whom the city took its name.
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