“They wanted me to forget my way of life and learn to be civilized and learn to
be a good white person. I still don’t know what a good white person is. All I know
is that I learned to march, march, march, and not speak my language. You got in
big trouble for that. I got many whippings and confinement.”
—Celum Young, Tulalip Leader (1895–1987)
The People of the Salmon
View the entire story in the Tulalip Brochure.
The Story of the Tribes That Became the Tulalips
Table of Contents
If you look among the historical listings of the early groups of Coastal Salish people who lived below the line which separates Canada and the U.S., you won’t find a reference to "Tulalip" (pronounced Tuh’-lay-lup) Indians until modern times.
Tulalip is a place - a spectacularly beautiful, sheltered bay on the eastern shore of Washington’s Puget Sound. The Salish word for it dxʷlilap means "far to the end" and refers to how canoes entering the bay had to cut a wide berth around the sandbar on the south side to avoid running aground.
History books credit Captain Vancouver with discovering Tulalip Bay by accident when, according to one source, his ship Discovery ran aground on a sand bar. In truth, however, centuries prior to the coming of any white man, Indians roamed throughout this area and made it their home. According to Vancouver’s own journals, when he did come ashore at this pristine spot on the afternoon of June 4, 1792 to claim English possession, he found these first settlers "... helpful and non-threatening".
Just half a century after Vancouver’s grounding, settlers arrived, claimed portions of land on the northern shore of Tulalip Bay, and constructed a saw mill by 1853. This was Snohomish County’s first white encampment, before the county itself had been designated; Washington, at the time, was still very much a "territory".
And just a few years later, around this same buy, leaders of the Indian nations who attended the now-famous 1855 gathering at Mukilteo, settled their people - after giving up much of what is now the western portion of Washington State.
(Pat Kanim) of the (Snoqualmie) tribe, and other leaders who attended the gathering, requested that the reservation be located at Tulalip Bay because it had "... plenty of timber and creeks." This was a region with nearly 20,000 acres of forest land, where two freshwater streams converged, and where the fish were so plentiful that, as Vancouver’s journal records it, "...the Siene was haul’d with pretty good success...".
The Native Americans who today identify themselves as members of the "Tulalip Tribes" are the direct descendants of the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish and other signers of the Treaty of Point Elliott who collectively agreed to cede their ancestral lands and relocate their Tribal homes on the Tulalip Federal Reserve.
Those were the people of the tribes which, after living alongside one another at the Tulalip Reservation for seventy-nine years, agreed upon the U.S. Government’s urging to form a single governmental structure under the auspices of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.
Those people, too, are the ones who have held to their agreements and promises for more than 150 years. They honored their treaty commitments and, in turn, relied on the federal government to protect their treaty reserved rights. This is the story of the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish and other allied tribes and bands at Tulalip.
A Good Life
Long before Captain Vancouver came ashore at Tulalip Bay, the many tribes of the Coastal Salish people thrived on the lands surrounding Puget Sound. The climate was mild and fish and wildlife were abundant. United by a common heritage and a root language (Salish), more than thirty tribes and bands of Indian people lived in relative harmony with the land and each other.
The sheltered waterways and rivers allowed the people of the many communities to connect with one another. As marriage between members of different extended families was encouraged, gatherings which brought the various tribes together were important social events, particularly so for the younger people who were eager to find lifetime mates. These occurrences also served as markets for trading, and the evening campfires offered opportunity to pass on legends and dances which were important to teach and perpetuate the learnings, life- ways, history and spirituality of Coastal Salish culture.
The potlatch, long a Northwest Indian tradition, was a great feast given to celebrate important events and confirm the power of a leader by the giving of gifts to guests. These were held during the summer when the salmon began to run, and after successful hunts and when adolescent children received new names to replace their childhood names. People from other tribes were invited; some traveled great distances to attend.
During warm weather the Coastal Salish Tribes of Puget Sound followed the game and fish runs, erecting temporary encampments that could be moved quickly. Winter homes on the other hand were large permanent structures, constructed of massive cedar beams and planks, and usually shared by several families of the same bloodline.
In addition to being hunters, fishermen and gatherers, the early people were also accomplished traders. They traveled up and down Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean in large cedar canoes - from the North past Vancouver Island and inland to Fort Langley, B.C. to as far south as below Fort Nisqually in South Puget Sound and into the Columbia River via the Pacific. Transactions were often conducted using shell money, with values determined by the size and rarity of the seashells.
The Indians of the Pacific Northwest shared a strong belief in the existence of a "myth age," when beings that displayed both human and animal qualities roamed the earth. According to legend, the Changer, , changed many of these beings into animals, some dangerous creatures into stone, and gave the native people the essential elements of their culture.
Totems carved from cedar, the "tree of life", were prominently displayed in the large potlatch houses. Images depicted on story poles represented ancestral spirits that the people felt inß uenced many aspects of their existence. By calling upon their spirit guardians, they gained a sense of control over the unpredictable forces of life.
The First Residents of Snohomish County
Members of the Snoqualmie Tribe initially lived inland along the Snoqualmie River, from North Bend to the junction of the Skykomish and Snoqualmie rivers. They were called , which means extraordinary people. They were great hunters who lived principally on game and salmon. During the summer they would visit families of the coastal Snohomish tribe to feast on seal, sturgeon, clams and salmon. In summer they went to Snoqualmie Prairie to gather roots and berries and hunt throughout the Cascade Mountains.
As one of the largest tribes in the area, the Snohomish were given due respect by others. They lived in four principal communities but claimed Hibulb, their main settlement just four miles south of Tulalip (on the north shore of Everett along the Snohomish River), as their original home. This was because, according to legends, placed them there when the transformation took place. , at Priest Point, was the second-largest community. , on the southern point of Whidbey Island, and , across from Tulalip at Sandy Point, were the others.
Skykomish settlements were located along the Skykomish and Foss Rivers. From these spots the Skykomish ( ) traveled deep into the Cascades on hunting expeditions.
Although most tribes in the region lived in relative peace, there were some exceptions. Hibulb, the main Snohomish settlement, was the only fortified encampment in the Puget Sound area. As such, it provided safe harbor and protection from most rival attacks.
While the different tribes claimed particular areas for summer and winter encampments, Coastal Salish people viewed themselves as caretakers of the earth rather than landlords.
The Promises of the Treaty
During the early years of the United States, the government attempted to maintain friendly relations with the Indians. Of the first thirteen laws enacted by the first U.S. Congress, four dealt with Indian matters. The U.S. Constitution gave Congress the power to regulate trade with tribes and ultimately established federal authority to keep peace, make treaties and spend monies on Indian matters.
During the years of westward expansion, the policy concerning Indians was simple: nudge them ever forward as white settlers moved across the country from the east. This "nudging" also included mistreatment in the name of power, money and land, along with exposure to European and Western disease, alcohol and other "gifts." When colonists reached the western boundaries of the continent and realized the "new world" was not endless, government officials were pressed to secure land for the pioneers by seeking land cession agreements-- treaties--from the Indians.
In pursuit of this intention the U.S. Government established the Bureau of Indians Affairs in 1824, and five years later made it part of the Department of Interior.
Isaac Ingalls Stevens, Washington’s first territorial governor, became this region’s first superintendent of Indian Affairs. By 1853, he had identified thirty different Indian tribes in the general Puget Sound area and had estimated the surviving collective population to be between 5,000 and 7,000 individuals. His correspondence with the Indian Office expressed his strong concern for the need to sign treaties with these tribes.
At the time, something very similar was taking place to the north. The Indians of British Columbia, at meetings in 1850 and 1852 with Governor James Douglas, negotiated a series of treaties which ceded all their lands except their accustomed settlements, camps and fishing sites, most of which would later become reserves.
The structure, form and basic provisions of Stevens’ treaties were patterned after those effected with Missouri and Omaha Indians. The "deal" he sought would exchange vast portions of territory for various goods and services. Chiefs would receive annuities. A school would be provided. All of this, of course, was predicated on the understanding that the Indians would move to designated areas set aside as "reservations."
A leading concern of the Coastal Salish Indians was that their right to fish in their usual places would be preserved. This was the core essence of their culture--their way of life. It has been said that the fishery was of no less importance to Coast Salish Indian tribes than the atmosphere they breathed.
Point Elliott was actually the second treaty Stevens pursued. On the day before Christmas in 1854, at what is now McAllister Creek in Thurston County, Governor Isaac Stevens met with Nisqually, Squaxins, Puyallups and Indians of six other tribes. Two days later, sixty-two chiefs signed the Treaty of Medicine Creek which established the Puyallup, Nisqually and Squaxin reservations.
It was on the heels of this first success that Stevens informed Commissioner of Indians Affairs George Manypenny of a second treaty conference he had arranged further north near the mouth of the Snohomish River. This one was to include "...all the Indians of the island and the eastern shore of Puget Sound ..."
It was called the "The Treaty With The Suquamish, Sk-Tahl-Mush, Samahmish, And Other Allied And Subordinate Tribes In Washington" but came to be known as the Treaty of Point Elliott. Based on their previous contacts with white settlers, all of which had been quite friendly, leaders of Duwamish, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, Snohomish, Stillaguamish, Swinomish, Skagit and Lummi tribes agreed to attend.
The Convention at Mukilteo
So it was that in late January, 1855, 2,300 Indians gathered on the shores of Puget Sound at what is now Mukilteo, Washington. Over the course of several days, the treaty document, having been prepared well before the council even convened, was read to the Indians who, though they understood little of the white man’s language, were expected to sign it. As they did they received presents. Eighty-two headmen signed the treaty on January 22, 1855.
Among them were Chief Pat- Ka-nam of the Snoqualmie; Chief Chow-its-hoot of the Lummi; and Chief Goliath of the Skagit Tribe; sub-chiefs S’hootst-hoot, Bonaparte, George Bonaparte, Joseph Bonaparte, Jackson, and John Hobtsthoot, all of the Snohomish Tribe; Chief Seattle of the Duwamish and Suquamish, and a number of others.
The document called for the tribes to give up a vast region where they had lived for generations. This land comprised millions of acres--from the Cascade Mountains to the east, the Canadian border to the north, south almost to Tacoma, and west to the waters of Puget Sound. It included the San Juans, Whidbey and the other habitable islands. It encompassed several present day Washington counties: King, Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom, Island and part of Kitsap.
The Tribes, in turn, were to retain four relatively small parcels of land; these would be the reserves set aside for their use and occupation. Three of these parcels were originally intended to be temporary reserves, but became permanent reservations.
Tulalip, at the mouth of the Snohomish River, was originally intended to be the general permanent reservation for the Point Elliott treaty tribes, but became the permanent reservation for the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish and other allied tribes and bands. It was "...a beautiful spot fronting on Puget Sound, with considerable arable land, fine lumber and grazing land, low shores and excellent fishing facilities." It embraced a full township of more than 22,000 acres as well as the waters of Tulalip Bay and was located close to the territory of the Snoqualmie and Snohomish Indians. It was on this thirty-six section portion of land that the government promised to build an agricultural and industrial boarding school.
The treaty provided for money to be paid--$15,000 for the "preparation of reservation lands for habitation," another $150,000 over a 20-year period for "annuity goods," and compensation to individuals for their "removal to the proposed reservations." Also promised in writing, a school would be provided with teachers for twenty years; a blacksmith, carpenter and farmer would be hired to instruct Indians in their respective occupations, and a doctor would be provided at the central agency.
Indian leaders were assured that the treaty would secure their fishing rights, and those of their Tribal descendants, to fish in all of their "... usual and accustomed..." off-reservation places, and to hunt and gather on all open and unclaimed lands. Washington Territorial Governor Issac Stevens said, "this paper secures your fish."
The treaty further called for the abolition of alcohol and slavery on the reservation, and underscored the necessity for the Indians to remain friendly with their white neighbors. For their part, the participating tribes agreed to move from their homes and settle collectively upon the designated reserves within one year of the treaty’s ratification.
Because of political squabbles among federal officials, the Treaty of Point Elliott was not ratified until 1859. It was not until December 23, 1873, some fourteen years later, that the Tulalip Indian Reservation was officially established by presidential Executive Order.
The Tribes Live Alongside One Another
Shortly after ratification of the Point Elliott Treaty, as they had agreed, the Snohomish, Snoqualmie and Skykomish tribes moved to the reservation at Tulalip Bay. It is also reported that some Tribal members moved to the reservation earlier, expecting support from treaty agreements only to find extremely harsh times in these initial years.
By 1862, reservation agent S.D. Howe noted that the Indians under his charge at the agency included "...the Snoqual-mie, Snohomis, and Ski’wamish tribes" with a combined population of 1,200, and that Club Shelton, "Head Chief’ of the Snohomish tribe, lived among them on the Tulalip Reservation.
The following year, in his annual report to the Indian Office, Agent Howe reported again--this time with slightly different spellings that the "Snohomish, Snoqualmie and Skewamish lived here at Tulalip."
The historical record is full of documentation describing the presence of the Snohomish, Snoqualmie and Skykomish tribes at Tulalip since treaty times. Through all these years the tribes managed to maintain their culture, religion, language and bloodlines, even under the strict guidelines set out by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Reservation Life Was Anything But Easy
Things did not necessarily go easily for the residents of the reservations. They were expected to take up farming, but they were fishermen, not farmers. And the heavily-timbered land at Tulalip was not suited for crop farming.
The Indian school was a key element of the treaty promise. Tulalip was the designated site for an agricultural and industrial school for "...all the Indians west of the Cascade mountains...which was to have a capacity of educating a thousand Indian children." The government’s pledge called for the school to be provided within one year of the treaty signing, with a promise to maintain it for at least twenty years. Seen originally as a benefit for Tulalip Tribes, the government school ultimately served to interrupt and suppress Coast Salish culture, history, lifeways and spirituality for many generations.
Before a government school could be established, a traveling missionary named Reverend E.C. Chirouse came down the Snohomish and Snoqualmie Rivers to camp at the mouth of Quil Ceda Creek where he began to offer academic and religious training. He was sent to establish a school by the French Roman Catholic Oblates of Mary Immaculate Church. By late 1857 he had built on a reservation beach known today as Priest Point a log church, adorning it with a bell and a beautiful statue of St. Anne that had traveled with him from France. The bell and statue, known as the "French Madonna", remain today at the relocated Mission of St, Anne Church in Tulalip. With a Tribal settlement of hundreds of members located near Chirouse he was soon teaching tribal pupils as he preached, instructed and baptized throughout the region. By 1860 he had 15 pupils whom he instructed in the planting of gardens and in a boys band which provided entertainment at mill towns and earned money to support the school. Typical of missionaries at the time, Chirouse exhorted his students to forgo all their traditional practices, calling them "the Devil’s work."
The mission school at Tulalip began receiving meager government support beginning in 1861, when a boys’ dormitory and a teachers’ house were constructed on Tulalip Bay, but not until the close of the Civil War could a school for girls be established. At the all-boys school, Chirouse wrote Snohomish-language books and taught religion, woodcarving and farming. When the Government did not supply their promised aid, Father Chirouse traveled the land, begging for help to continue his work. Since there was no doctor, it was left to Father Chirouse to care for Tribal members through a devastating smallpox epidemic. The Sisters of Providence arrived in 1868 and until 1901 they operated the Tulalip Mission School of St. Anne, which was the first Indian contract school in the United States.
The new school, originally for girls, was located below today’s Mission cemetery on the southern bank of Tulalip Bay. Needing to fulfill treaty commitments, the U.S. government agreed to Father Chirouse’s request to provide funds to maintain the buildings and the church furnished books, clothing and medical care. In 1878 the Pope transferred Chirouse and the Sisters of Providence took charge of the male students under Chirouse’s separate care.
In the 1880’s the U.S. government began what they felt would be a productive assimilation and Americanization process for Native Americans throughout the country. Their plan called for Native American children to leave their homes on the reservations (some at great distances) to live at government assisted Indian boarding schools. The policy was enforced by Congress in 1893 with a law that stated all Native American children from age six to sixteen had to attend an Indian boarding school. Agents on reservations became the enforcers of this law, withholding rations or annuities from parents or sending them to jail if they did not place their children in the schools.
The boarding schools separated families and children from their customs, religion, beliefs, life-ways, clothing and native language. There were also considerable health risks, as communicable diseases such as tuberculosis and inß uenza took their toll in the crowded conditions of the schools. By the late 1800’s, life at Tulalip Mission School began to transform into a military-style boarding academy. Reservation children were subjected to non-Indian teachers intent on "civilizing" them. They were allowed little contact with their families while in school and strict discipline was maintained - with a leather strap if necessary. The school enforced marching, mandatory use of uniforms, and forbade the use of native languages spoken by the adult members of the tribes.
Eventually the U.S. government took over the Tulalip Missionary School at the turn of the century, making renovations and reopening on December 17, 1901. Soon after on March 29, 1902, the school was destroyed by fire sending home the children – but only for a short time. The government built a new school, further north along the inner shoreline of Tulalip Bay, opening as the new Tulalip Indian School on January 23, 1905 under the supervision of Charles Milton Buchanan (who also assumed the duties of the Indian agent when that position was abolished). By 1907 it had two dormitories for boys and girls and could accommodate 200 students. Many of the students came from other reservations and communities. Tulalip offered education up to the eighth grade, and some students continued on elsewhere for more advanced training.
Boarding schools did offer one advantage. Children were taught multiple subjects such as writing, arithmetic and reading. That allowed the younger members of the various tribes to learn a common language- English, which enhanced their ability to live and work in the emerging world. And the white man’s secret of written words was a secret no more. Children also learned job skills such as farming, western cooking, cleaning, carpentry, husbandry, nursing, blacksmithing, office work, baking, sewing and vehicle repair. In the 1920’s, the U.S. Government began to abandon the boarding school concept in favor of public schools. In 1932, the Tulalip Indian School closed, ending a fifty- year focus on American style, language and values that nearly erased Tribal language, history, culture, values and spirituality.
The promised reservation land allotments to the different families began in 1883. The reservations were divided into separate parcels which were then assigned to each head of the house.
Despite the Bureau’s strict discipline, the Indians maintained strong Tribal communities. Their culture survived and ß ourished on the reservation as an expression of the collective will of the people. Tribal leaders served on the Indian police force and on the reservation’s Court of Indian Offenses which heard civil and criminal suits involving Tribal members. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, Tribal leaders such as Chief William Shelton (son of Chief Club Shelton Whea-Kadim) emerged, re-educating the western world about Tribal culture and history through public cultural performances and the carving of totem or story poles and canoes.
One half of an original five-story pole sits at the Tulalip Elementary School today. Another eight story high pole sits on the Capital Grounds in Olympia, on the south side of the General Administration Building.
1934: The Tribes Form a New Alliance and Name
In 1934, Congress enacted The Indian Reorganization Act to encourage members of reservation tribes to take a more direct role in managing their own destinies. The Indian Reorganization Act provided the basis for tribes to strengthen and revitalize their Tribal governments. After a year of discussion, the members of the Snohomish, Snoqualmie and Skykomish tribes at Tulalip voted to form a single reservation governmental structure. A committee was appointed to draw up a new constitution and bylaws. To ensure a harmonious merger between the reservation tribes, their leaders mutually agreed to adopt the one name which was now common among them, the name of their home, Tulalip.
So was formed the reservation government known as the Tulalip Tribes of Washington. The federal government nevertheless continued to recognize and deal with the Snohomish, Snoqualmie and Skykomish as the three integral tribes that formed the Tulalip Tribes.
Judge Boldt Decision Reaffirms Tribes’ Treaty Fishing Rights
The Tribes’ treaty fishing rights were vindicated by a now-famous lawsuit over treaty fishing rights in 1974. Judge George H. Boldt issued his decision reconfirming that the off- reservation fishing areas of the Tulalip Tribes included those of the aboriginal Snohomish and Snoqualmie tribes holding that, as successors of these tribes, the Tulalip Tribes hold their treaty fishing rights and are entitled to fish in their usual and accustomed fishing areas.
Today Tribal government and the people of Tulalip Tribes continue to protect their sovereign right through a number of initiatives:
- Maintaining a strong Tribal Government
- Providing Tribal opportunities for education, jobs, land and housing
- Improving the Tribal community to promote physical, emotional and spiritual happiness and perpetuating cultural and environmental sensitivity
- Improving the infrastructure on the reservation
- And improving the Tribes’ economic base that provides the primary support for a growing population of young Tribal members.
This chapter is an update of "the People of the Salmon" researched and drafted by Cultural Resources in 1993-1994.