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What is the Nisqually Tribe?

Niki Acker
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Nisqually tribe is a Native American tribe living in western Washington state at the Nisqually Indian Reservation, in the Nisqually River valley. The Nisqually tribe has over 650 enrolled members, most of whom live on the reservation. The Nisqually tribe originally lived on the coast and in the interior woodlands, ranging from Puget sound to Mount Ranier, and their lifestyle focused on salmon fishing and the red cedar, like other indigenous people of the Northwest Coast.

The Nisqually tribe traditionally harvested shellfish and gathered camas root, berries, grasses, and bark to supplement their salmon fishing. They also raised horses and hunted wildlife. The first white settlement in Puget Sound was Fort Nisqally, established in 1833. The Nisqually remained peaceful with white settlers through the 1840s, even when other tribes of the area were advocating war.

The Nisqually Indian Reservation was established in 1854 through the Treaty of Medicine Creek between the United States and a group of Indian tribes. The treaty also guaranteed the rights of the Native Americans to fish in their traditional waters, even though they were not pat of their allotted territory, though these rights were regularly violated in the decades to come. Nisqually Chief Leschi and his brother Quiemuth did not sign the treaty because of its unfairness; it allotted about four acres of undesirable land to each Indian, while white settlers were being given 160 acres each. The Nisqually tribe were not satisfied with their allotted land, as it was rocky and not accessible to fishing, and went to war with the United States the next year in the Puget Sound War. Fighting on the side of the Nisqually tribe were the Klickitat, Muckleshoot, and Puyallup tribes.

In the aftermath of the war, won by the United States Army in 1856, Chief Leschi and his brother Quiemuth were arrested. Quiemuth was murdered by an unknown party while in police custody, and Chief Leschi was convicted of the murder of Colonel Moses in 1858 and hanged. He was exonerated in 2004.

The Nisqually tribe's constitution was approved on 1946 and amended in 1994. The tribe continues to make their living through fishing, operating fish hatcheries in Clear Creek and Kalama Creek, with a focus on protecting the natural environment. The Nisqually language is the Southern dialect of the Salish language Lushootseed, which has at most 200 speakers. The Nisqually Culture Program seeks to maintain and revitalize tribal traditions, with plans to develop native art programs, oral history, fishing and hunting instruction, and the construction of native buildings.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a America Explained editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "
Discussion Comments
By BabaB — On Oct 18, 2011

It's really a shame that the terms of so many of the Indian treaties were changed later on. It's really shameful what we did.

First the Nisqually Tribe was moved away from their native lands, then they were given such a small piece of land to live on and use for fishing and hunting. Later on the government went back on their word and took away their fishing rights in their old territory.

I don't know how many tribal members were killed during the war the the U.S. Army. Their population is way down today. It's sad.

By live2shop — On Oct 17, 2011

I live in the Puget Sound area, close to the Nisqually Tribe reservation. I didn't know that there was a war over reservation land between the Nisqually and the American government.

It sounds like the Nisqually leaders had been given a bum deal because they were moved from their native land and were given such a small piece of reservation land. They had every reason to go to war.

Their tribal members only number about 600. I hope that they don't fade out of existence. Every tribe has a lot of culture and tradition to offer.

Niki Acker
Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a America Explained editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide...
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