Samish Indian Nation

Samish Indian Nation

The original Samish homeland extended across a region of seven present-day counties in northwest Washington. The widely scattered tribe, now based in Anacortes, is linguistically and culturally connected to the larger Coast Salish tribe, and speaks a dialect called Straits Salish.The Samish people were held in high esteem by other tribes for their accomplished canoe and longhouse construction. Samish Island reportedly was home to a longhouse whose length was about 35 yards.The tribe flourished in a generous environment. They harvested numerous foods:

  • Finned fish - salmon, steelhead, halibut, herring, sucker, chub and sturgeon;
  • Shellfish - mollusks, sea urchins and crab;
  • Birds - upland birds, waterfowl and shorebirds;
  • Mammals - deer, elk, and seal;
  • Plants - sprouts, bulbs, roots, berries and fruit.
  • Samish reef-net fishing grounds and summer food-gathering campsites were used continually for hundreds of generations through the first third of the 20th century.The Samish also were noted for their spiritual heritage. When foods were harvested, they were believed to be survival gifts from ancestors, to whom they responded with thanksgiving prayers or songs.In 1847, the tribe boasted an estimated 2,000 members. However, marauding northern tribes, and measles, small pox and influenza epidemics unwittingly introduced by whites, withered the population to approximately 150 souls by 1855.That was the year of the historic Point Elliott Treaty in which Northwest Indians ceded their homelands in exchange for federal protection and benefits. Reportedly, 113 Samish were present on the treaty grounds for the signing. The signatories also included a dozen other tribes. For reasons unknown, the tribe names Samish and Lummi were left off the final draft.Following the treaty inking, the Samish were supposed to be relocated onto the Bellingham Bay Indian Agency. However, they refused to depart from Samish Island and other villages because they wished to avoid religious persecution by other tribes at the agency. The Samish lived on in their tiny communities scattered around the northwest islands and shores, enduring recurring run-ins with settlers for lack of a reservation they were previously promised.In 1926, the Samish opened tribal enrollment and adopted a formal written constitution. (They would replace it with new versions in 1951, 1965 and 1974).The federal government would not formally recognize the Samish as a tribal entity, even though they were a party to the Point Elliot Treaty. In 1934, the U.S. Court of Claims ruled that the Samish were indeed signatories, but found that their claims against the government for land that was taken by treaty terms were compensated by subsequent federal outlays issued for their welfare. Nevertheless, they filed a land claim before the Indian Claims Commission in 1951.In March 1958, the commission issued two notable conclusions regarding the Samish tribe in their efforts to pursue land claims:

  • In the first, the commission held that, “The Samish held Samish Island, Guemes Island, eastern Lopez Island, Cypress Island, and Fidalgo Island.”
  • The second finding indicated that, “The treaty cession includes the whole of the areas alleged by petitioner to have been used and occupied by the Samish Indians in aboriginal times.” Eventually, the Samish were awarded a settlement on October 6, 1971, in the amount of $5,755.
  • The Samish’s status as a federally recognized Indian tribe was lost in 1969 when a clerical oversight left it off the latest Bureau of Indian Affairs list. A nearly three-decade succession of legal struggles followed to recover federal recognition. A tendency of the Samish to disperse in search of decent livelihoods continued during that period, which caused a demographic shift from a rural to urban tribal population.Following the historic Boldt decision of 1974, which granted certain Northwest tribes 50 percent of the allowable fishing catch, the U.S. District Court granted the Samish treaty fishing rights a year later. However, in 1981, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a decision that said the Samish had not provided adequate proof of “political and social cohesion” to fulfill the requirements for treaty fishing rights as a distinct tribe.On April 26, 1996, the Samish tribe was "re-recognized" by the federal government, which qualified them for benefits.

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

    How a scattered Indian nation kept its songs alive when it couldn’t sing face-to-face

    For thousands of years, Samish people have gathered in cedar longhouses along the saltwater shores of the Pacific Northwest, often singing one of the many versions of the “Bone Game Song.” Its soaring notes uplifted campfire crowds and, more recently, tribal meetings in Anacortes, Washington, homeland of the Samish Indian Nation.

    But these days, as a pandemic forces social distance, Samish citizens can only convene in one location to share that song and other ancestral traditions – Microsoft Teams.

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    “A tribe is a family, a community. Any cultural gathering is who we are,” says Emily Baker, a Samish citizen who lives in Seattle, two hours south of Anacortes. “Having these singing and drumming events on Teams is key to a lot of people’s health and wellbeing.

    “Reconnecting this way – while staying safe – is healing,” she adds.

    From their kitchen tables and living room sofas, hundreds of Samish people have spent parts of their summer and early fall together on Teams, a digital collaboration space. There, they have joined singing classes, swapped tribal stories, held film festivals and created all manner of traditional crafts – from carved rattles to woven headbands.

    Those remote reunions, citizens say, have helped the tribe sustain its collective soul.

    Leslie Eastwood teaches a traditional weaving class on Teams from Samish headquarters.

    But hard work has been happening on the platform, too. In late June, the Samish nation held its annual general council meeting on Teams, offering financial, political and legal reports, tribal leader responses to citizen questions collected in advance, and live results of the 2020 tribal council election.

    “With COVID-19, we had to get creative,” says Tom Wooten, chairman of the Samish Indian Nation. “Teams allowed us to reach our membership in the U.S., Canada and all over the world. For them, to be able to share knowledge of our accomplishments, it was just amazing.

    “It’s about the interaction, and I feel this myself,” he adds. “It’s about your mental health. It’s about your whole physical being, too. We need people to be whole. Seeing other people laughing, smiling and talking is important. We need other people.”

    Eastwood participates in a Samish beading class via Teams.

    During that virtual meeting in June, Samish leaders found ways to include some beloved protocols.

    At previous annual tribal meetings – typically held in a community building at the Samish-owned Fidalgo Bay Resort in Anacortes – Samish veterans carried Samish and American flags into the room, entering to the slow beat of an animal-hide drum.

    This year, Leslie Eastwood, the tribe’s general manager, tracked down photos of past presentations of the tribal colors. She used PowerPoint to build a slideshow to share on Teams, adding audio of singers and drummers performing the Samish victory song.

    “It was important for me to personalize this meeting since we could not be together,” Eastwood says.

    “I wanted everyone seeing those other faces. If we were all sitting there, sitting in those chairs together, those would be the people I normally recognize and see. Those are the people I miss,” she adds. “I threw my heart into it.”

    Eastwood also recorded that meeting so Samish citizens could view it at their convenience. In June, 84 tribal members watched the proceedings live and nearly 20 later logged into the recording. (The Samish nation has a population of more than 2,000 people.)

    Tribal leaders say the actual participants totaled about 150, as many families watched together, clustered around individual computers, meaning that virtual meeting drew roughly the same number of people as in-person meetings in past years.

    Samish Island, a History a new book by Sue and Fred Miller

    Samish Indian tribe They also profile the Samish Indian tribe, which has been based on various islands for centuries, but after wars and raids by Northern Indians and decimated numbers due to diseases brought by Caucasian explorers they wound up establishing their base and building extensive longhouses on Samish Island by the 18th and 19th centuries. The Millers then describe the idyllic days of the tribe in the early 19th century and progress on to the time of the Indian Wars and Treaties of 1855-56 and especially to the time from 1867-on when white settlers began encroaching on tribal land. The second half of the 19th century was a time of sadness as the Indians were dispersed to Guemes and other islands and reservations.
    Especially interesting is their study of Chief Harry Tet (or Harry Samish, among several other names), who worked hard to maintain the dignity of his people and wound up being honored as a friend of the settlers who sympathized with the tribe's plight. One of their many marvelous discoveries is a 1947 term paper written by Doris Green, which includes interview with pioneer descendants, description of tribal history and a map. Indeed, the maps are another highlight to the book, drawn by various individuals in both in the 19th and 20th centuries and plat maps from various sources.
    As in all good books that we read for the project, we learned many new details that are important for understanding settlement of the Northwest. For instance, we learned about the wappato plant that was a staple of the Indians' diet. Wappato, or Arrowhead (also known as tule potato), is an aquatic plant (Saggitaria sagittifolia), which was apparently indigenous to the island. Both leaves and root are used in Chinese cooking. For those who swear at dandelions' annual appearance, we also discovered how the Samish prepared boiled dandelion root. In careful footnotes, the Millers attribute those facts to Dr. Wayne Suttles and Terry Slotemaker (Anacortes Museum volunteer), respectively. But most important, the Millers explained that the Iroquois Indians may have been even more important than priests for the early introduction of the Catholic religion to Northwest Indians &mdash a fact we had overlooked before. We explain below what we discovered in further research on that subject.
    I also very much appreciated their descriptions of the geography and geology of the Island. They went so far as to track down the dozens of earthquakes that resulted from tectonic plates colliding and they show the fault lines that extend vertically on both sides of the island. They also the question of how the Island was originally formed, how it was altered during periods of glaciation and the formation of the waterway between the Island the mainland, which eventually became a slough and was filled in by settlers at different times.

    Where and how to find the book

    Our mea culpa We want to sincerely apologize to the Millers for prematurely posting a mini-review of their book in Issue 40, which included excerpts of their book, along with photos that were proprietary. We received a copy of the book just before they left for vacation. We should have waited until they returned and discussed such a story with them and we should have asked for their approval. We did not and that was a mistake that we regret.
    As Fred explained, some of the photos of the book were obtained after considerable effort and promises that they would not be reprinted without permission of the agencies and those who donated them. In addition, some of our excerpts from the book were based on memories of sources who also asked that they not be reprinted without permission. In our zeal and excitement over reading this fine work, we erred and we apologize not only to the Millers but the original contributors. We want to assure the contributors that the Millers did not authorize the reprint and did not violate their original promises. We pulled down the story immediately after Fred explained the situation to us. Further, we will not post any Miller excerpts or photo reproductions until we are specifically authorized. In addition, we are providing space for the Millers to explain why they are concerned and the assurances that they gave to sources.

    Another question they answer for all of us is why and how the two towns of Samish and Atlanta were platted in the same month of June 1883, to the west and east of the narrow neck of the middle of the Island, by William Dean and G.W.L. (George Washington Lafayette Allen), respectively. Their description of the docks, hotels, saloons and buildings, along with the follow-up of each and the post offices, is very valuable to the historian.
    With Chapter 8, they begin describing the early settlers, starting with Daniel Dingwall, who settled on the land around what is now called Scott Point in 1867 and soon built a sawmill there and started other businesses before losing the property to Major Granville O. Haller. Especially valuable in that section is the information from Gladys Squires. James Squires Sr. and his extended family were very important settlers on the south shore of the Island and her essays are vital in understanding the early settlement. You will learn a great deal about the early logging and fishing, on through the years when Japanese immigrants recognized the great potential for oyster propagation, one of the very most important resources there in modern days.
    In Chapter 10 you will learn about "The Middle Years" in the first half of the 20th Century, when Rum Runners sought refuge in the bays and coves and brought important dollars during national Prohibition and the nationwide Depression. In this and other chapters, you will learn about the roads that were built, the process of stringing wires for electricity and telephone and establishing water companies and fire departments. In the following chapter, Fred reviews the many attempts by developers to radically change the nature of the island for real estate and for industry. As he says, "I was there, I was involved, but I learned even more from finding the official records.
    In the last five chapters, Sue Miller lists and describes all the families who formed social units on the Island. She starts with the farmers and homesteaders, then progresses on to the different distinct parts of the Island: North Beach, Middle Island, Neck of the Island and West End. In order to this, she drew on her own memories and the stories she has heard from old-timers over the years and she also interviewed those old-timers and their descendants in order to profile the families who formed strong social bonds, helped each other during the challenging times and hung on even when times were tough and when developers wanted to change the nature of the communities.
    She profiles wonderful character such as Elizabeth Eckenberger, who settled on the south and east portion of the island with her husband, George, and was definitely not the doormat or "little woman" in his shadow. Stories about her have always tickled my funny bone and Sue takes us under the surface for even more. She also profiles Judge Elmon Scott, the Chief Justice of the Washington Supreme Court just before the turn of the 20th Century, who later raised his family in Bellingham and who bought much of the old Dingwall/Haller property. His grandson, Scottie Elmon, is still a beloved member of the community. She also features stories and poems by Berniece Hoyt Leaf, one of our dearest friends, and by Catherine McIntyre McClintock &mdash memories of when Sedro-Woolley's McIntyre family of Skagit Steel fame summered on the Island. I especially enjoyed Bernie's memories of when she was a very young girl and witnessed the fire that burned Allen's Atlanta Home Hotel &mdash then known as Lummi Lodge, to the ground on Jan. 5, 1933.

    Where and how to find the book We could go on and on, but instead, we urge you to seek out the book and read it for yourself. As Fred explains, they are not traditional publishers. The couple self-published this book and have not set up an organized marketing chain yet. They also emphasize that it is most decidedly a non-profit project, just as many of us embark on in the dedicated quest towards uncovering and sharing history: "Any funds generated after expenses will be donated and earmarked for college scholarships, either thru the Abby Memorial Fund or the Samish Island Community Group, which is non profit and sponsor of the book.." So, you will have to jump through a hoop or two to obtain the book. But trust us . . . it is worth the effort. Fred also emphasized the important part that Gail Hopley and her mother played in constructing the book and preparing it for publication.
    Fred shared a current list of retail locations: "WD Foods in Allen Skagit County Museum at LaConner and Anacortes Museums Stowe's Clothing Store and Horen's Drugstore, both in Burlington Rosabella's Gift and Apple Store on Allen-West and Farm to Market Road Rhododendron Cafe on Chuckanut Drive and Blau's Oysters, here on Samish Island. Books can also be ordered thru our e-mail ([email protected]) and at Hopley's e-mail at ([email protected],com). Or people can phone me at 360-766-6548 or Gail Hopley at 766-6823. We will go on line to such outlets as Amazon at some point. We arranged the publication ourselves, so there is no publisher sales outlet." If you live outside the area, look for it at your favorite bookstore or better yet, ask them to stock it. There is no ISBN number, but the publishing information is: Mount Vernon, WA: Copy & Print Store, 2007. Below, we provide a capsule biography of the authors that they provided:

    By and about Fred and Sue Miller Fred grew up on a small farm in the Sterling area and then lived his youth as a town kid in Burlington, graduating from BEHS in 1957. Susan, four years younger, was born in Aberdeen, Washington, and graduated from Centralia High School in 1961. Both have four-plus years of college education and BA Degrees. Fred worked about 24 years in various jobs in Criminal Justice positions. Susan taught High School English and French for several years and then Head Start for two years, all in the Burlington district. While raising three daughters, Susan also operated the Samish Island Pre-School, and in the next 25 years, more than 200 Island children began their learning process inside those school doors. She is active in the Samish Arts and Crafts Committee, doing stained glass and quilting.
    They each rented small homes on North Beach of Samish Island in the mid 1960's. Then they moved to the narrow neck of Samish, beginning their married life, renting part of a duplex from Mabel Hickson in 1967. In the spring of 1968 they purchased an older small beach home directly adjacent the beach, down at the bottom of the bluff about a quarter-mile from Camp Kirby at the southwest end of the Island. They added to and remodeled that home and have lived there for nearly 40 years. Their home life has thus been part of many of the Island areas and among the many neighbors they value.
    Fred has a lifelong interest in hiking and canoeing and a background in Geology and Mining. He also has a library of paleohistory books and many works from the study of genealogy. He has traveled the western states further developing those interests. He researched all aspects of Part I of this Samish History book. He wrote the Dedication, Introduction, Chapters 1 through 6, and Chapter 11 in Part II, as well as the Afterward section and the Appendix. Susan coordinated, interviewed Islanders, collected data, wrote, and organized the thousands of items of information and island family histories. She did virtually all of Part II, The Settler History, as well as the Acknowledgements for Part II and the Information Page regarding the Abby Memorial Fund, which recognizes the contributions of our deceased youngest daughter. The Abby Fund fully covered all the preparation costs of this book. It also funds college scholarships and other causes.
    Finally, the book benefited from thousands of hours of paid and unpaid work by dedicated Island volunteers who formatted photos, did page design and indexing, wrote family memories, and proof read this work. It is therefore not only the work of Susan and Fred Miller this history book is a Samish Island Community effort. The result is a book which will enlighten, amuse, and also educate as it documents the history of this special Island called Samish.
    Journal ed. note: the book is dedicated to Abby, the Millers' daughter, who died tragically on Jan. 31, 2000 when Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crashed into the ocean northwest of Los Angeles and all 88 passengers aboard died. Abigail and her husband were returning from a vacation in Mexico as was a dear old friend of mine, Tom Stockley, the wine editor of the Seattle Times, and his wife. We share their grief with them.]

    10 Things You Should Know About the Samish Nation

    The Samish Nation’s story is nothing short of remarkable.

    In the 1840s, more than 2,000 Samish people lived on their ancestral islands in the central Salish Sea: Fidalgo, Guemes, Lopez, San Juan, and Samish. But by the time of the Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855, which made land available for non-Native settlers, introduced diseases had reduced the Samish population to 200.

    An estimated 158 Samish were present at Mukilteo when the Treaty of Point Elliott was negotiated and signed the treaty was considered signed for Samish by Pateus, a leader of the Noowhaha, who were tied by kinship to the Samish. But rather than move to reservations, many Samish stayed in their traditional homelands. Over the next 60 years, they were pushed out by settlers, resulting in a regional diaspora. But they never gave up their identity, their lifeways, or their sense of community and nationhood.

    In the 1910s, the Samish Nation became a founding member of the Northwest Federation of American Indians and joined a 40-year legal battle to get the United States to fulfill its treaty promises, including compensating indigenous nations for the lands that were ceded to the U.S. in the treaty.

    Then, a big step back. In 1969, a BIA clerk accidentally left Samish off a revised list of federally recognized indigenous nations. Rather than correct the oversight, the U.S. government required Samish to go through a lengthy process to get its federal acknowledgment restored. Restoration didn’t come, however, until 1996 – 18 years after a federal court decision upheld the treaty fishing rights of indigenous nations that signed Western Washington treaties in the 1850s. Because Samish wasn’t �rally recognized” when the court decision was made, Samish wasn’t included. It is still fighting to restore its treaty fishing rights.

    Despite legal challenges, Samish has pushed on – protecting its culture, building its economy and land base, and strengthening its political profile.

    Fast forward to today: Samish’s population is now 1,200, and Samish has acquired more than 360 acres in its traditional territory, including Huckleberry Island. The Samish Nation is governed by a seven-member council departments include cultural resources, education, elders, Head Start, health, housing, natural resources, social services, and vocational rehabilitation.

    Within five years, Samish will break ground on a boutique hotel-casino on commercial acreage it owns on heavily trafficked Highway 20 in Anacortes, and will begin construction of homes and a large community center on Samish land overlooking Campbell Lake.

    In a recent survey, several Samish citizens 𠇎xpressed an interest in coming home,” Samish Nation Chairman Tom Wooten said. “I expect Samish will continue to grow. There’s a whole generation out there waiting to come back.”

    In this story, Wooten and others share 10 things you should know about the Samish Nation.

    The Giving People: That’s the meaning of the Samish Nation’s name, Wooten said. Historically, the Samish “were known for their canoe making and their gift-giving potlatches, which were attended by Indians from throughout Puget Sound, Vancouver Island and the Fraser River country,” Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown wrote in 𠇊 Guide to the Indian Tribes of the Pacific Northwest.”

    Courtesy Washington State Department of Transportation

    MV Samish, the newest Washington State ferry, gets underway providing ferry service in the Samish Nation&aposs ancestral waters in mid-May.

    Samish namesakes: The State of Washington named Lake Samish after the Samish Nation in 1968. The M/V Samish, the newest state ferry will be dedicated in mid-May and will serve the Anacortes-San Juan Islands route, in Samish’s traditional waters. Other natural features and landmarks bearing the Samish name: Samish Bay, Samish Island, Samish River, Lake Samish Park, the Samish Crest Trail, Samish Overlook on Blanchard Mountain, the Samish Neighborhood and Samish School in Bellingham, and Samish Elementary School in Sedro-Woolley.

    Home is where the heart is. Because Samish is not reservation-based, its citizens live predominately in a six-county area – but they consider Samish country to be home.

    Amy Nichols, daughter of former Samish council member Lisa Weber, talked about the importance of place in a 2013 video by Longhouse Media.

    �ing able to learn about my ancestors, you’re walking in their footsteps, you’re wondering about who they were and what their life was like,” Nichols said at Camp Samish, a summer cultural camp on Samish Island. 𠇊nd it kind of puts your life in a different perspective, because when we’re in the city, we have a different style and we don’t think about the environment around us. But when you’re here and you’re looking at the beauty of this land, you can’t get away from the here and the now and everything around you.”

    Rosie Cayou James, Samish, is the Nation’s cultural resources director. She’s also a well-known frybread cook. “When I’m in the kitchen, I feel complete,” she said in the Longhouse Media film. “When my cousins are doing cedar hats, they feel complete, or if they are in the canoe they feel complete. So, I come home to Samish where I can feel complete.”

    The Samish Nation&aposs Vocational Rehabilitation Department provides counseling and culturally related activities that support Samish and other Native Americans in their employment goals.

    Education is paramount: The Samish Nation has a fairly well-educated population – according to Wooten, 33 percent have had some college, compared to 25.1 percent of the state’s population and 21.2 percent of the U.S. population.

    “We also provide vocational training and scholarships for Samish members, and tutoring for children who need assistance,” Wooten said.

    Bringing the language back: The Samish language is a dialect of Straits Salish and is closely related to the languages spoken by the Lummi, Saanich, Songish, Sooke,ਊnd Semiahmoo. The Nation has a Samish language program and has recorded more than 60 hours of interviews with fluent speakers.

    Courtesy of the artist, Tracy Powell

    This story pole at Deception Pass State Park honors Ko-Kwal-alwoot, the Maiden of Deception Pass, who married a sea being to guarantee seafood and fresh water for her people.

    Cultural caretakers: The Samish Nation is dedicated to cultural preservation and helping the general public understand the Samish story. In 1983, Samish worked with sculptor Tracy Powell to create a 30-foot story pole of Ko-kwal-alwoot, the Maiden of Deception Pass, who married a sea being to ensure salmon runs for her people. In 2005, Samish brought home from the Burke Museum a house post that belonged to the last Samish longhouse on Guemes Island. In 2014, Samish brought home an ancestral canoe, believed to date back to pre-contact, from the San Juan Island Historical Museum.

    Samish has a canoe family and participates in the annual Canoe Journey. Each summer, Samish and the Swinomish Tribe present a cultural education event for the public at Deception Pass State Park. And during the year, Samish presents public events dedicated to culture, environmental stewardship, and healthy lifestyles.

    Growing economy and land base: Samish’s land base includes 78 acres held in trust at Campbell Lake on Fidalgo Island. The following has been acquired but is not yet held in trust: Fidalgo Bay Resort, 160.4 acres Huckleberry Island, 10 acres with 2,900 feet of shoreline an additional 46 acres on Campbell Lake 45.7 acres of agricultural land on Thomas Creek 15 commercial acres on Highway 20 and Thompson Road in Anacortes the Samish Nation administration complex on Commercial Avenue in downtown Anacortes, four parcels on 1.02 acre Samish Longhouse preschool and child care center, two parcels on .52 acre the Samish Health and Human Services building and property on Commercial Avenue in downtown Anacortes and 3.57 acres of oyster beds on Mud Bay on Lopez Island.

    Wooten said Fidalgo Bay Resort – cabins, RV sites, beaches and bay access, and trails – is “the economic engine of the tribe” and upgrades are planned to “make the resort a first-class facility.”

    Another big source of revenue: Samish, which is a party to the gaming compact between the State of Washington and indigenous nations in the state, leases its gaming machine allotment to other Native casinos. According to Wooten, that revenue helps pay the cost of Samish’s governmental operations. But that revenue is just “pennies on the dollar” compared to the revenue he expects will be generated by the boutique hotel-casino.

    All of this economic activity means jobs, of course – for Samish citizens and others. Currently, Samish provide jobs for 55-60 people.

    A Samish Nation canoe passes a Washington State ferry on Samish&aposs ancestral marine highway, in the San Juan Islands, during the 2008 Canoe Journey, an annual gathering of canoe cultures from throughout the Pacific Northwest.

    Taking care of the land: The Samish Nation Department of Natural Resources monitors water quality in lakes, streams and bays in its historical territory has worked with property owners to improve land-use practices to protect watersheds from pollution replaced invasive plants with native vegetation collaborated with other agencies to restore an estuarine salt marsh and restored shorelines.

    Sam Barr, Samish, is a GIS analyst for the Nation’s Department of Natural Resources. “I got really fortunate to get a job working for my tribe taking care of natural resources,” he said in the Longhouse Media video. “There’s a real strong [emphasis] in our culture to take care of the land, so I take a lot of pride in being able to do that work.”

    Notable Samish people: Annie Lyons (c. 1863-1956), was an artist. She was the daughter of Whulholten, one of the leaders of the Samish village on Guemes Island and owner of reef-net fishing sites on Lopez Island. She shared her knowledge of Samish traditional lifeways with anthropologists and historians, and in 1926 was a witness in the U.S. Court of Claims case of Duwamish et al vs. United States. One of her braided cattail mats is in the collection of the Burke Museum.

    Charlie Edwards (1866-1948), master carver, carved The Telegraph, a famous racing canoe, circa 1905, on display at the Island County Museum on Whidbey Island the Question Mark 2, a racing canoe carved in 1936 after the original Question Mark went into retirement and a 60-foot pole in 1938 that depicted important cultural figures. He was a witness in U.S. Court of Claims case of Duwamish et al vs. United States in 1926. His son, Alfred, served as chairman of the Samish Indian Nation. A great-granddaughter, Barbara James, is treasurer and former vice chairwoman of the Swinomish Tribe.

    Sarsfield J. Kavanaugh (1867-1943) served as Samish chairman and president of the Northwestern Federation of American Indians in the 1920s. He was a witness in U.S. Court of Claims case of Duwamish et al vs. United States in 1926.

    Herman “Jinks” Blackinton (1892-1974), was a longtime member of the Samish Tribal Council. His grandson, Jeff Morris, has served in the Washington state House of Representatives since 1997, and was House speaker pro tem in 2008-11.

    Ken Hansen (1952-2006), longtime chairman of the Samish Indian Nation, was instrumental in the effort to restore Samish’s government-to-government relationship with the United States.

    Tsul-ton, also known as William Bailey, is the current master carver at Samish. His prominent works include a healing pole at Fidalgo Bay Resort, carved and raised in memory of seven workers who died in an explosion and fire at a nearby refinery in 2010. He designed the Samish Nation’s logo, and his carvings and prints can be found in private collections and on display at the nearby Swinomish Casino & Lodge.

    The traditional life of Native Americans on San Juan Island was permanently disrupted in the second half of the nineteenth century by an influx of homesteaders, many of whom, however, chose Native American wives to share their lives and new endeavors. A generation later children of local Indian women were offered the possibility of obtaining land promised to Indians in treaties from the 1850s but never provided. Thomas Bishop (1859-1923) and his Northwest Federation of American Indians gathered information on those with Native blood not enrolled in federally recognized tribes or living on reservations to pressure the government to make good on its commitments. In 1916 the Interior Department dispatched Charles Roblin (1870-1953) to survey Western Washington Indians and develop a list of potential candidates for land allotments on existing reservations. Included on the final roll were 146 first-and-second-generation descendants of 12 women from San Juan Island's Mitchell Bay Tribe who had married settlers. While those applicants were unsuccessful, and the tribe was never recognized by the government, current islanders from early settler families continue to take great pride in tracing their roots to these Native American island forebears.

    Coast Salish Life on San Juan Island

    Located in the far Pacific Northwest in the Salish Sea between the Washington mainland and Canada's Vancouver Island, the San Juan Islands archipelago has an archaeological record of human habitation dating back at least 14,000 years. Artifacts and human remains suggest the existence of established villages by 9,000 years ago. Stories passed down through generations of Native Americans already on San Juan Island when the first non-Indian explorers arrived told of their long history in the area. Lummi Indians, for example, taught their children that the first man, swet'an, came down from heaven on the north coast of San Juan Island near today's Garrison Bay, and that location "was the center of the universe. This man became the ancestor of the kale'gamis people" (Bailey-Cummings, 5). This group eventually evolved into the Lummi, Saanich, and Songhees tribes, which together with the Sooke, Semiahmoo, and Samish tribes are now often called collectively the Northern Straits Coast Salish people.

    Coast Salish families undertook a seasonal rotation of activities on San Juan Island. In spring women harvested and prepared camas bulbs that they cultivated, an important food source, and worked to maintain crops of other meadow plants. Men repaired fishing nets and made hooks for fishing halibut, rockfish, lingcod, and other species. In late spring deer were hunted -- captured in nets and then clubbed or speared. In early summer families moved to fishing camps to take advantage of the immense salmon runs that occurred especially along the southwest side of San Juan Island. Traditional family sites were prepared for reef-net fishing, an extremely efficient technology developed by island Indians, and the large catches were then wind-dried or smoked for winter consumption. While the men fished and hunted, women harvested, cooked, and preserved berries and other fruit, along with horsetail and bracken rhizomes, among other plants. Summer was also a time for trading among the network of tribes and for socializing. Intermarriage among the groups was common, and there seems to have been little concern for firm distinctions of tribal membership. When the salmon season waned, attention turned to harvesting clams, oysters, mussels, and other seashore food. And by late autumn families had returned to winter villages in the islands or on the mainland.

    A Changing World

    The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought traders and explorers to the islands first from Russia, Spain, and England, and later the United States. With these newcomers came also devastating diseases to which Native Americans had no immunity. Outbreaks in 1782, 1830, and the 1850s resulted, it is estimated, in an 80-to-90-percent loss of population in a 75-year period. In addition, Coast Salish villages had become frequent targets of tribes from the north who came in raids to seize goods, destroy property, kill local residents, and carry off prisoners to be forced into slavery. By about 1840 the island's winter villages had been largely abandoned. Lummi and Samish tribal members still returned to traditional summer fishing grounds each year but then retreated in the fall to more fortified villages on the mainland or Vancouver Island.

    By the 1850s events were taking place elsewhere that would profoundly affect the lives of San Juan Island Indians and other Western Washington tribes long into the future. On March 2, 1853, Washington Territory was created and President Franklin Pierce (1804-1869) appointed Isaac Stevens (1818-1862) as its first territorial governor. In addition to his other responsibilities, Stevens was charged with making treaties with Native Americans throughout the territory to secure resources and lands for the growing flood of settlers and for the railroads. In the next two years, Stevens negotiated five separate treaties, effectively seizing control of all the land from the Columbia River to the Canadian border. One, the Treaty of Point Elliott, signed on January 22, 1855, was negotiated with chiefs and representatives of numerous Puget Sound and Northwest tribes, including the Lummi who gave up extensive areas of their traditional homeland and in return were granted a 15,000-acre reservation (to be shared with the Nooksack, Samish, and other local groups) near Bellingham. According to the terms of the treaty, all tribal members acknowledged their dependence on the U.S. government and were to move to their reservations within one year of the treaty's ratification.

    Just a year later in January 1856 leaders of the Quinault (sometimes spelled "Quinaielt"), Quileute, and Queets tribes and other smaller bands on the Olympic Peninsula signed an almost-identically-worded-and-structured document, the Quinault Treaty, also known as the Treaty of Olympia or Quinault River Treaty. From their vast area they were given approximately 208,000 acres, located along the Pacific coastline in the southwestern portion of the Olympic Peninsula, for a reservation and assured their traditional fishing rights.

    Despite the treaties' requirements that all Indians move to their designated reservations, many did not, including a small band of primarily Lummi/Samish heritage who maintained a fishing village on Mitchell Bay, a sheltered inlet on the northwest side of San Juan Island. The area had been used by untold generations of families for their seasonal homes, fishing, maintaining and harvesting food plants, and other activities. They felt no compulsion to change their ages-long patterns of living and move from all that was familiar and traditional.

    At the time of the treaties, there were few non-Indians on the island most of them employees of the British Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), which in the early 1850s established a large sheep and farming operation there. To enhance the stability of the population, HBC had long encouraged employees to marry Native American women. The earliest American, British, and other settlers, too, often brought with them Native American wives from farther east or married local Indian women after they arrived. These women, skilled in using the island resources and knowing the best times of year for agricultural, fishing, and other activities, were invaluable and supportive partners for early homesteaders. The 1870 census of the archipelago's population (of which San Juan Island had by far the largest portion) records 45 Native American wives of settlers and five of Kanakas (Hawaiians), employed by HBC, out of a total of 80 adult women. However, all other Indians (except two shepherds, also probably employed by HBC) were omitted from the count, making it difficult to determine the actual size of the Mitchell Bay Tribe at that time.

    Throughout the 1870s and 1880s increasing numbers of settlers began to move into prime farming and fishing areas around San Juan Island. Lands traditionally used for hundreds of years by Native Americans were considered by the settlers to be freely available for the taking, and take they did. For the Indians at Mitchell Bay the land appropriation was a life-altering disaster. One tribal elder interviewed many years later remembered:

    "A white fellow moved in there. They homesteaded the whole thing. They just plain homesteaded it wrong and everything. Then, on the other side of the bay, what there was left, the Lummis moved across, just a stone's throw across the bay they had two great big houses there. They had some small houses, cabin-like, that they stayed in that got homesteaded so the Lummis just lost out there too. White people came and homesteaded the darn place and never left their ground for the Lummis" (Pitcher, 301).

    Records reveal that six homesteaders had registered properties totaling more than 700 acres surrounding Mitchell Bay, almost the entire perimeter, before 1890. Indian residents were summarily displaced and families dispersed.

    Government Policy and Indian Rights

    In 1887 Congress passed the General Allotment Act, which made it possible for Indians to be granted individual properties, to be held in trust by the U.S. government (since Indians were deemed incapable of managing their own property and lives) and overseen by the Office of Indian Affairs. The goal was to encourage a more "civilized" and settled lifestyle of farming, similar to that of the homesteaders. Only tribal members on reservations could receive allotments, based on the amount of land available and the number of tribal members. While Lummis on their reservation were eligible for allotments, Mitchell Bay Indians, not recognized by the government as a distinct tribe or in possession of tribal reservation lands, were not.

    Reservation surveys commenced, a necessary precursor to land allotments, but it was a slow process. A survey of the Quinault reservation was completed in 1904, but allotments could not begin until a treaty document was prepared, agreed to by the Indians, ratified by Congress, and accepted by the government. Part of the agreement stated that if reservation land was left over after allotments had been made, the federal government could sell it to non-Indian settlers and investors. The Quinaults' vast forests and rich agricultural lands were already being eagerly eyed by numerous potential buyers.

    An act of 1911 finally directed the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to begin assigning allotments on the large Quinault reservation not just to tribal members already on the reservation but also to Washington tribes "who are affiliated with the Quinaielt and Quilleute tribes in the treaty and who may elect to take allotments on the Quinaielt Reservation rather than on the reservations set aside for these tribes" ("Summary Under the Criteria . Steilacoom Tribe . "). Word went out that the Quinaults were open to adopting Indians from other tribes to help keep as much land as possible in Native American hands. Requests for adoption flooded in many applications were approved by the Quinault Council before its actions were revoked by the Office of Indian Affairs in 1912.

    In 1914 an important meeting was organized in Tacoma by Thomas G. Bishop. Since 1910 Bishop, whose mother was from the Snohomish Tribe, had become increasingly committed to the cause of Native American rights. He had followed the news of the reservation allotments and was especially concerned about the unknown numbers of Indians who were not receiving proper compensation under their treaty rights because they were not on reservations or members of officially recognized tribes. More than 50 delegates representing numerous tribes attended the meeting, whose opening-day highlight was a speech by Chief Taholah, more than 90 years old, of the Quinault Tribe, presented in his native language. Taholah, one of the signers of the 1856 treaty, reminded attendees of the promises made by the government in return for the land ceded in the treaty. The three-day meeting resulted in the formation of a new organization, the Northwest Federation of American Indians (NFAI), with the objective of working to secure proper redress for rights that had been denied to so many Native Americans. Bishop went to work immediately.

    Bishop soon arrived on San Juan Island to begin a count of how many Indians there were living off reservations. When he explained to local residents that the Quinaults were willing to consider adopting Indians from other tribes, he found the information was enthusiastically received by a number of children of women from the Mitchell Bay Tribe despite their having little knowledge of the Quinault people or reservation, which was a distant 200 miles away on the Olympic Peninsula. Bishop encouraged them to submit statements of eligibility and application, and he himself notarized many of their affidavits.

    Each affidavit followed a specific pattern (probably suggested by Bishop) and always included a declaration of whether the applicant was a half- or quarter-blood Indian, details of parentage including the mother's tribal affiliation and Indian name if known, a list of the applicant's siblings with birthdates, note of marriages with spousal names and ethnic backgrounds, and signatures from three people who could attest to knowing that the applicant's mother or grandmother was a full-blood Indian of the Mitchell Bay Tribe. The affidavits also included a personal statement that the applicant was hardworking, of good moral character, and would follow all rules and laws of the Quinault Tribe.

    Many applied for land for themselves and for their children. Some offered additional statements of need, and all noted specifically that they had never received an allotment of land or other government benefit. Some affidavits were handwritten in pencil or pen on lined tablet or notebook paper others were typewritten. Stephen Gross (1876-1950), a typical applicant and one of eight children born to Jennie (Z-tat) and Samuel Gross between 1873 and 1895, noted that his "mother was an Indian of the full-blood and a member of the little band of Indians that habitated here at Mitchell Bay San Juan Island" (Gross affidavit). Mary Jane Briggs Balch (1872-1931) declared that she was applying for herself and her four sons: "I certify that I have not any home for myself and for my children and therefore petition you for a home for myself and for each of my children as we are all anxious for homes and to till the land that will be our own" (affidavit). Applicant Daniel Oakes (1883-1970) noted that his mother, "an Indian of the full blood," was still living and "is in real good health considering her age [ca. 66] and she has been a very hard-working woman all of her life," and he added that since he had never married, "my aged mother is my housekeeper" (Oakes affidavit).

    Over the next two years Bishop determinedly pursued his campaign for land allotments. At the 1915 meeting of the NFAI, he declared, with some flair for the dramatic, that the major purpose of the organization was to "provide some small tracts of agricultural lands for the unallotted Indians of this district, who are now wanderers on the face of the earth, and whose economic conditions are pitiable indeed" ("Summary Under the Criteria . Steilacoom Tribe . "). Bishop was authorized by the NFAI membership to go to Washington, D.C., taking 1,000 affidavits, to present the case for reparations directly to the federal government. Stationery with the NFAI letterhead was made available to applicants to record their statements. Charles Crawford (1864-?), who was born at Port Townsend, made use of the stationery to declare eligibility as a Mitchell Bay Tribe descendant his mother Hon-Hontoo was born, he reported, on Orcas Island.

    Bishop was able to convince the Office of Indian Affairs that there was potentially a large number of Indians in Western Washington who could claim that they had not been granted their treaty rights. The Secretary of the Interior, therefore, decided that, first, more precise information was needed: a list of specific names and a tally of the actual number of claimants were required. The person chosen for this undertaking was Charles E. Roblin (1870-1953). Roblin had received a law degree from the University of Michigan before launching a career with the Office of Indian Affairs in 1903. Much of his work for the previous decade had focused on land issues and allotment. Roblin was assigned two specific tasks: 1) to collect or verify applications for enrollment on the Quinault Reservation in preparation for recommending approval or rejection of each application, and 2) to make a separate list of those who could not be enrolled on the Quinault Reservation and collect detailed information on each individual as a basis for decisions on future actions.

    The Roblin Roll, 1916-1919

    Some San Juan Island applicants who had already applied for adoption and allotments prior to Roblin's survey now took a further step. Ben Briggs (1875-1921), a logger, who claimed eligibility through his mother Mary (Seamt-nott) Briggs (1850-1901), had submitted a typewritten affidavit in 1914 that Bishop had notarized. Now, in 1916, he was provided with a form to complete and sign granting power of attorney to Thomas Bishop to act on his behalf in matters relating to his claims. The form repeated much of the same application information. Many of Ben's siblings as well as the children of other Mitchell Bay Tribe mothers also applied for adoption. Some applicants sent letters to Bishop asking that he plead special cases. Susie Gray Cunningham (1872-?) of Orcas, whose mother, Lucy Katone Gray (ca. 1855-1893), claimed to have been of the Mitchell Bay Tribe, wrote on behalf of her brother George Gray (1877-?), who was blind.

    "While he may not be able to actively move to an allotment if given him, some of us are willing to assist him in the future as we have in the past. The right for an allotment of land is his, and in the event an allotment be accorded him I feel sure that it will be a blessing towards supporting one whose struggles for an existence will be lessened for one so unfortunate. Please press his claim with all vigor as though he were one of the fortunates" (Cunningham letter).

    Those Mitchell Bay Tribe descendants hoping to be adopted and granted lands on the Quinault Reservation were to be disappointed. In December 1918 the tribal council met to review with Roblin the applications and render decisions. For the San Juan Island hopefuls, one issue was especially problematic. In determining eligibility the council took heavily into consideration whether each applicant and family had long-standing ties with the Quinault Tribe and how those ties had been maintained. Had the family visited and if so with whom on the Quinault reservation? How frequently? In reporting what he felt were some other deciding factors, Roblin pointed out that many applicants and their families (including those claiming Mitchell Bay Tribe affiliation) had married and continued to marry non-Indians and that they were living in white communities, had no strong tribal ties, and were citizens of the state. Consequently, San Juan Island applicants received typed form memos signed by Roblin stating that their applications for Quinault tribal adoption and land allotment had been rejected.

    Roblin finished his survey and presented his report and roll of those applicants without allotments on January 31, 1919. The results confirmed Bishop's claim that there were many Western Washington Indians who had not received allotments as promised in the 1855-1856 treaties. Included on Roblin's roll were 146 people listed as descendants of 12 women from the Mitchell Bay Tribe. Roblin categorized the many people he had surveyed across Western Washington into two groups: 1) children and grandchildren of Indians on reservations where there was no more available land to be allotted, and 2) a much larger group of descendants of Indian women who had married settlers and founded mixed-blood families. He indicated some doubt about the urgency of the circumstances of the latter group because none had shown any interest in pursuing land claims until they were encouraged to explore allotment possibilities by Bishop and the NFAI.

    After Roblin's Report

    Predictably, no immediate action was taken following Roblin's report to the Office of Indian Affairs and Department of the Interior. Two years later, with little progress in either the courts or Congress, Bishop was granted an audience with newly-sworn-in President Warren G. Harding (1865-1923).Nothing further came out of that 1921 meeting, and Bishop died in 1923 leaving most issues unresolved. Without Bishop's leadership and drive, the NFAI faded from the scene. In 1924 Congress, grateful for the service of so many Native Americans in World War I, enacted legislation making all Indians U.S. citizens, but the new law had little practical effect on Indian lives. States and Indian agents continued to have jurisdiction over tribal reservation lands and allotments.

    In 1925 some further demands for restitution for Native Americans encouraged Congress to at last pass a law allowing Puget Sound Indians to bring claims against the government in the federal Court of Claims. The initial case of Duwamish et al v. United States was filed in 1926, and a San Juan Islands group was briefly noted in the 1934 decision as a non-treaty tribe. In 1957 Mitchell Bay Tribe descendants sued under the name of San Juan Island Indians. The 1962 court finding in that case was that the Mitchell Bay and San Juan Island Indians were the same group of people, descendants of a mix of several tribes who had had villages in the islands -- "The Indian Claims Commission denied the San Juan Island group standing to sue on the grounds that they were derived from the Lummi and Samish tribes and therefore covered under those claims" -- although it noted that "a group calling itself the Mitchell Bay Tribe . still exists currently" ("Recommendation and Summary . Samish Indian Tribe . ").

    Mitchell Bay Indians never received either federal or state recognition. Nevertheless, in the twenty-first century there are still those who claim proudly to be descendants of the Mitchell Bay Tribe women who helped establish farms and enterprises on San Juan Island. One family even maintains its license for an ancestral reef-net fishing site. Many traditions and customs may have been lost, but residents still revere their heritage and are anxious to pass on their family stories to children and grandchildren. As one woman lamented not long ago, "We didn't get any allotment land in San Juan County. It's sad. There isn't any recognition of our ever having been a tribe" (Shukovsky). The Mitchell Bay Tribe was a vital part of the island's early history, and knowledge of its culture and contributions remain part of the heritage to be handed on to future generations.

    "Schedule of Unenrolled Indians" listing descendants of Mitchell Bay Tribe including Ben Briggs (Charles Roblin, 1919)

    Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration

    Isaac I. Stevens (1818-1862), ca. 1855

    Courtesy UW Special Collections (POR0136)

    Homestead claims in Mitchell Bay area, San Juan Island township plat map (detail), ca. 1900


    Drucker, Philip. Indians of the Northwest Coast. Garden City, NY : Natural History Press, 1955.

    Hansen, Lawrence. SamishGold Memoirs Samish River Adventures and History. Hansen Publishing, 1999.

    Jeffcott, P.R. Romance and Intrigue on Bellingham Bay, or the story of Old Sehome and the origin of its name. Unpublished manuscript. Bellingham, 1955.

    Koert, Dorothy and Galen Biery. Looking Back the Collectors' Edition Memories of Whatcom County/Bellingham. Bellingham, Grandpa's Attic, 2003.

    Majors, Harry M. Exploring Washington. Holland, MI : Van Winkle Publishing, 1975.

    Meany, Edmond S. Vancouver's Discovery of Puget Sound. Binford and Mort, 1942.

    Miller, Fred and Susan Miller. Samish Island: A History, from the Beginning to the 1970's. Mount Vernon, Copy and Print Store, 2007. (Available on Samish Island from Blau Oyster, or Fred & Susan Miller).

    Phillips, James. W. Washington State Place Names. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1971.

    Roe, Joann. The North Cascadians. Seattle, WA: Madrona Publishers, 1980.

    Rousseau, Julie Wilkinson. Alice Bay Cookbook. Mount Vernon, WA : Quartzite books, 1985.

    People for Puget Sound. Samish Island Rapid Shoreline Inventory Projectprepared for the Skagit County Marine Resources Committee by the People for Puget Sound, ed. by Phil Bloch and others. Seattle, 2002.

    Samish Nation Center for Study of Coastal Salish Environments. A Proposed Study of the Re-Opening of the Channel between Alice Bay and Padilla Bay a presentation by Russel Barsh, ecologist, to the Samish Island Community Center on April 17, 2004.

    Shore Lines the Samish Island Newsletter, ed. by Kathleen Packard. Many issues include brief histories of island residents and events, 1994-present. All issues since 2003 are available online.

    Skagit Historical Museum, La Conner, WA. Various archived articles about the Skagit Nuclear Power Controversy in Skagit County during the 1968-1972 period, that affected Samish Island. A Chronology from these articles was compiled in 2005 by Eileen Andersen, webmaster.

    Skagit River Journal of History and Folklore. A great online history of Skagit County provided great histories of Equality Colony in the West County section.

    Squires, James, Jr. and Gladys Squires. A Samish Island History (unpublished manuscript), 1973.

    Swanton, John R. Indian Tribes of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Fairfield, WA : Ye Galleon Press, 1968.

    Thomas, Robert B. Chuckanut Chronicles. Bellingham, WA : The Chuckanut Community and Firefighters Association, 1971. Reprinted December 1992

    The Native American History of Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands

    Native people have lived in the Salish Sea region for over 10,000 years. This vast time span is described by Native elders and cultural leaders as “time immemorial.” For all the time that we can easily comprehend, the people have always lived here. The first people that settled here after the retreat of the last glaciation are among the ancestors of the Coast Salish people of today. Certainly other people entered the area later, although there is no evidence of migrations in the past few thousand years. Archaeological and linguistic evidence supports the idea that the speakers of the ancestral Salish language lived in the area surrounding the mouth of the Fraser River about 5,000 years ago. From this homeland, the Salish languages diversified and spread throughout the Pacific Northwest, producing the 23 distinct Salishan languages spoken in recent centuries.

    Speakers of two of these languages lived on Fidalgo and Whidbey islands. The most northerly of the four Native groups living on these islands is the Samish, who spoke a dialect of Northern Straits closely related to Xwlemi Chosen, the Lummi language. All of the other groups to be covered here were speakers of Lushootseed, or Puget Salish, a language spoken throughout the Puget Sound area from the upper Skagit River to the head of the sound around Olympia.

    The Samish had traditional winter villages on the northwest half of Fidalgo Island, as well as on Guemes and Samish islands, with a territory that extended from Chuckanut Bay to the northeast to the southern tip of San Juan Island to the west. Their continued presence in this territory is dramatically shown by the Maiden of Deception Pass sculpture at Rosario Beach in Deception Pass State Park. An excellent video about the sculpture and the Samish people is available online. (1) The Samish are a federally recognized tribe with offices in Anacortes. Their website states: “The Samish Indian Nation is the successor to the large and powerful Samish Tribe, a signatory to the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855.” (2)

    The southeast half of Fidalgo and the northeast corner of Whidbey are in Swinomish traditional territory, which also included parts of the Skagit River delta. The Swinomish were a small group whose homeland was chosen as the site of one of the few reservations established in the 19th century. Their situation is well stated in the following: “The Swinomish Reservation is located on Fidalgo Island in Western Washington state. It is the home of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, a federally recognized tribe. The Swinomish Tribe is descended from and is a successor to tribes, including Swinomish, Kikiallus, Samish and Lower Skagit, that inhabited the Skagit Valley and Puget Sound islands for thousands of years before non-Indian settlement.” (3) Most of the population of the Kikiallus of Camano Island and the Lower Skagit of Whidbey Island moved to the reservation, helping the Swinomish become the strong tribe that it is today.

    The northern two thirds of Whidbey Island was the homeland of the Skagit people, often referred to as Lower Skagit to avoid confusion with the Upper Skagit. The Skagit territory extended to fishing locations on the Skagit River downstream from modern day Mt. Vernon, but all of their permanent winter villages were on Whidbey Island. The three best-known villages were on the shores of Penn Cove, with two other villages at Oak Harbor and adjacent Crescent Harbor. This area was visited in May 1841 by U.S. explorer Charles Wilkes, who reported the following: “The next point visited and surveyed was Penn’s Cove, between Whidby’s Island and the main. This island contains many small villages, and appears to be more thickly peopled than other parts of the sound … here [is] a permanent settlement, consisting of large and well built lodges of timber and planks.” (4)

    One important winter village was at Coupeville: “Bʒáʒale (Bdzá-dzaley) which was at the present site of downtown Coupeville was said to be one of the largest Lower Skagit villages within the Penn Cove area.” (5) Due north of Coupeville, on the north bank of Penn Cove at Monroe’s Landing, was the village of Čǝk w olá, and east of Coupeville on the south shore of the entrance at Snatelum Point was the village of Čoba?álšid. Some native families continued to live at these two villages into the 20th century, long after most of the Skagits had moved to the Swinomish and Tulalip reservations. Building on the ongoing ties to these families, local promoters sponsored the Indian Water Festival starting in 1929. Many tribes attended and canoe races were a featured event in the years up to the start of World War II. (6) The celebrations were revived in 1992 as the Penn Cove Water Festival, which is still held each year (except during the coronavirus pandemic).

    Heart of Skagit Indian Traditional Territory
    The heart of the Skagit Indian traditional territory is preserved today as Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve. This reserve was established to preserve historic sites and a rural landscape, which owes its existence in large part to Native American land use practices extending many centuries into the past. The link is the existence of open prairies in this part of Whidbey Island, the largest being Ebey’s Prairie, extending from Coupeville across the island to Ebey’s Landing on Admiralty Inlet. Extensive areas without forest is unusual in this region, and almost certainly required regular burning to prevent trees from filling in the clearings. The Skagits and others cultivated the prairies as they harvested camas bulbs and set fires every few years. There is archaeological evidence for these practices going back at least 2,300 years. (7) When Euro-Americans arrived in the early 1850s, they settled almost exclusively on the prairies because of the lack of trees. Evidence of these early farms, the 19th century waterfront of Coupeville, and ancient prairie landscapes are preserved today.

    Finally, the southern third of Whidbey Island was part of the traditional territory of the Snohomish Indians. There was a major village at Cultus Bay on the southern tip of the island, with most of the other villages located on the mainland near modern Everett and Marysville and along the Snohomish River. Most Snohomish descendants are members of the Tulalip Tribes, “successors in interest to the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, and other allied tribes and bands signatory to the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott.” (8) The Tulalip Tribes are one of the most prominent native groups in our region today.

    Fidalgo and Whidbey islands have a rich history, which begins thousands of years ago with the ancestors of the Coast Salish people. Over millennia, native culture changed in many ways, including the development of increasingly efficient fishing methods and distinctive art styles. An important change in the islands was intensive land management to maintain the open prairies. Fishing continues to be essential to the native communities today, Coast Salish art is widely recognized, and the prairie landscapes can be appreciated by all visitors to Whidbey Island.

    A Note on the Names of the Islands:
    Whidbey Island was given its non-native name once and it has stayed almost unchanged since, while it took half a century for the current name to settle on Fidalgo Island. Whidbey Island was named Whidbey’s Island by British explorer George Vancouver in 1792 to honor Joseph Whidbey, the first to circumnavigate his namesake island. In 1790, Spanish explorer Manuel Quimper gave the name Boca de Fidalgo to the opening of the present Rosario Strait. A map from the Eliza expedition of 1791 uses Canal de Fidalgo to name all of today’s Rosario Strait. Fidalgo Island was not recognized as an island by the early explorers, and was given its name by British mapmakers in about the 1830s. Similarly, Quimper gave the name Ensenada de Caamaño to what is now Admiralty Inlet, and the name was later used for Camano Island. (9)

    4. Quoted in Duer, D. (2009). “Ebey’s Landing National Historical
    Reserve: An Ethnohistory of Traditionally Associated Contem- porary Populations,” United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service Pacific West Region Series in Social Science, Publication Number 2009-02, page 9.

    5. “Native Tribes of Whidbey & Camano Islands,” interactive map on Island County Historical Museum website https://www.islandhis-

    6. Trebon, T. (2000). “Beyond Isaac Ebey: Tracing the Remnants of Native American Culture on Whidbey Island.” Columbia, vol.4 , no. 3, pages 6-12.

    7. Duer, D. (2009). “Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve: An Ethnohistory of Traditionally Associated Contemporary Popula- tions,” United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service Pacific West Region Series in Social Science, Publication Number 2009-02, pages 41-43.

    9. Richardson, A. (2019). “Place-Names of the Pacific Northwest,” in Denham, K., ed., “Northwest Voices: Language and Culture in the Pacific Northwest.” Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University Press, pages 23-42.

    Allan Richardson taught anthropology at Whatcom Community College for 38 years. He has published on Northwest Coast native culture and has served as consultant to the Nooksack Indian Tribe for a number of grants and legal cases.

    Samish Indian Nation timeline accepted into online Living Atlas of the World

    Samish Indian Nation is proud to announce the acceptance of the Samish Indian Nation Timeline storymap into the ESRI ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World. The inclusion into the Atlas expands the reach of the storymap, creating a resource that is available to all GIS users, regardless of location or affiliation.

    The storymap was created by GIS Program Manager, Casey Palmer-McGee, to help visualize Samish’s unique history and its deep connection to the Salish Sea. Through this timeline, Samish hopes that people will learn more about the past, present and future of the Tribe, and its integral connection to Washington state and United States history.

    Pictured: A screenshot of Samish Indian Nation Timeline from Online Living Atlas of the World.

    (Image: courtesy Samish Indian Nation)

    “We created this storymap as a way for Samish citizens to stay connected to their history and culture,” said Palmer-McGee. 𠇊nd to help tell the story of the Samish Indian Nation to our neighbors, our community and the greater population, who may not know about Samish’s challenging history as a small Tribal Nation. It is such an honor to be included in the ArcGIS Atlas of the World, where Samish’s history can live on forever.”

    Since its creation in 2017, the timeline has been a valuable resource to Samish citizens and the general public, first as a Sway document, and newly updated in 2021 to the format of a GIS storymap. The priorities of the timeline are to preserve, protect and promote Samish culture and traditions, and by joining this expansive database, it will be available to people around the world.

    The ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World is an online database that connects people, locations and information through interactive maps. The software uses contextual tools to gain greater insights, visualize and analyze data about landscapes. By utilizing an ArcGIS storymap timeline, Samish created a precise and engaging way to look back in the past of the Tribe’s history and towards the future of its people. This is designed to be a living document that can be updated as this culture continues to grow and thrive for the next seven generations and beyond.

    For more information on the Samish Indian Nation, visit

    About the Samish Indian Nation

    The Samish Indian Nation is the successor to the large and powerful Samish Nation, a signatory to the Treaty of Point Elliot in 1855. Linguistically and culturally, the Tribe is grouped as Coast Salish and traditionally speaks a dialect known as “Straits Salish,” rather than Lushootseed dialect that is common to other neighbors in the region. The Tribe’s Traditional Territory historically stretched over a wide area from the Cascade mountains to the far western shores of the San Juan Islands.

    Facing history

    Frank says school proximity to a tribal reservation rarely delivers results: If students are not Native, they’re often oblivious to basic parts of Native communities’ experience. They often don’t understand fishing rights, or why tribes own casinos or smoke shops or even that the Nisqually Indian Tribe has its own sovereign government.

    Changing that starts with teaching the teachers. The day he got the call last year from his niece’s school principal at a North Thurston high school, alleging she’d punched a fellow student, reminds Frank that this history has real-world consequences.

    As the principal explained the situation, Frank guessed the rest of the story. His niece often came home with stories about comments other students would make about her being Native — one kid had been calling her names like “casino Indian” for a while. This time, she retaliated. Frank remembers bristling when the principal brought up her proposed punishment.

    “This kid’s been harassing my niece for the past couple months, and you haven’t done anything about it,” he says, recounting what he said on the call. “If that’s the case, I’d like to come in and talk to you guys because you have a bigger issue at North Thurston than a girl punching a boy.”

    The two met soon after to talk it out, and the principal eventually apologized. The other student was told to keep his distance from Frank’s niece. He says instances like that happen all the time.

    “It always frustrates the hell out of me that, when our people stand up for themselves, the bullies end up playing the victim,” he says. “That’s not just happening in North Thurston or in the schools, that happens in life — when we stand up for ourselves, we look like we’re the ones bullying people.”

    Public schools have rarely been a comfortable place for Native kids: Boarding schools in the 1900s sought to assimilate Native kids into Euro-American culture by prohibiting them from engaging in cultural practices or speaking their languages.

    Bill Kallappa II (Makah), a member of Washington’s Board of Education, says that this history has impacts even today. Now, about 90% of Native students in the United States attend public schools where tribal influence has historically been suppressed. Studies show that many are actively hostile environments for Native kids, like those with “Native” mascots.

    “A lot of that negative history and historical trauma still exists,” says Kallappa. He knows tribes that, since he was in elementary school, have been actively trying to build relationships with schools. He says their success rate has been more “miss than hit.”

    And even for tribes that haven't reached out to schools, he says, “There’s a lot of mistrust still between tribes and districts, so we need to work to continue to improve those relationships.”

    With fellow Nisqually Councilmember Hanford McCloud, Frank is focused on changing that. The two have visited schools and educated teachers around the state about Native history and culture for years. McCloud says they saw some progress, and schools liked their visits, but making these lessons a permanent fixture in their lesson plans was a different story.

    “Why isn’t there a place for this in this classroom?” McCloud says he would ask. “Why do we have to fight so hard to get our information in there?”

    It was the same for River Ridge. McCloud and Frank made visits there before without seeing permanent changes to curriculum. That changed after Frank met Mike Smith, the school’s previous assistant principal, when Frank dropped off his niece for her first day at River Ridge in 2018, which was a school she previously attended.

    Smith had analyzed the numbers and knew that Native students typically have low graduation rates, but he knew that the problem went deeper. The large majority of principals in schools are white men over 40, he says, and many, including himself, were trained in “colorblind” standards of addressing these issues.

    “Part of the issue is school leaders, as a whole, we were not trained in how to do this,” he says. “We had zero training on Indigenous rights, Indigenous sovereignty.”

    Smith approached Frank that day, initially asking how he could make Native students more comfortable at the school — and from there, those conversations grew. Nisqually and school representatives started meeting regularly. All throughout 2019, the school invited tribal leaders to give presentations on campus and, in turn, teachers were invited to the Nisqually Reservation for workshops that would teach them about the tribe’s contemporary history and culture.

    “As a person who serves Native students, I could see an immediate improvement in the increase of Native visibility,” says Koepp, the district’s Native student program specialist. “Teachers became a lot more aware and attentive.”

    After that, Koepp says, he and school administrators began thinking bigger: In 2019, they first celebrated “Billy Frank Jr. Day” as an official school holiday to honor the Nisqually activist. Nisqually flags are now raised alongside the American flag at each school in the district, accompanied by an acknowledgement that the area is historically Native land.

    And at River Ridge, this led to conversations about new classes. The U.S. history through Native perspectives class is now in its second year, and a literature class taught through the same lens was added this year.

    “These classes aren’t electives,” Koepp says. “These are actual history and English credits, so our district is giving credit to all this work.”

    Koepp remembers first flying the Nisqually flag at the school district office last January, which he got to raise himself. He says it was surreal.

    “In my family, there are a good several generations where it was really important to be quiet about being Native, because it was dangerous,” he says. “So many people like me, people before me, have worked and struggled so hard for this level of recognition — [so] even as I was doing it, I couldn’t believe it was happening.”

    History teacher Alison McCartan’s curriculum planning notes on her whiteboard at River Ridge High School in Lacey, Wash., photographed on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. River Ridge High School is one of the first in the state to create a U.S. history class that is taught through Native perspectives. (Jovelle Tamayo for Crosscut)

    History teacher Alison McCartan’s curriculum planning notes on her whiteboard at River Ridge High School in Lacey, Wash., photographed on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. River Ridge High School is one of the first in the state to create a U.S. history class that is taught through Native perspectives. (Jovelle Tamayo for Crosscut)

    Washington tribes join lawsuit to stop sale of National Archives in Seattle

    Concerned it would threaten their cultural preservation, history and treaty rights, 40 tribes in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska joined a Jan. 4 lawsuit with Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson to stop the federal government from selling the National Archives facility in Seattle and shipping its millions of boxes of records to California and Missouri.

    The state of Oregon and nine historic preservation groups and museums also joined Ferguson’s lawsuit. The coalition filed a motion for a preliminary injunction on Jan. 8 in U.S. District Court to try to immediately stop the sale, alleging that the federal government violated conditions in place regarding such sales and neglected the importance of the records for the Northwest.

    Located in Sand Point Way, the National Archives at Seattle contains records made by federal courts and agencies in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.

    Numerous tribal leaders, historians and researchers from all four states submitted declarations in support of the January 4 motion. Tribal members wrote about using the records at Sand Point to learn family history, create tribal museums, revive their languages, discover traditional reservation burial spaces to locate a cemetery and for legal issues regarding treaty rights, natural resources and tribal enrollment.

    If the sale goes forward, the federal government plans to ship the 56,000 cubic feet of records — only 0.001% of which are digitized — to facilities in Missouri and southern California, which will “effectively eliminate public access to the records,” according to a press release from Ferguson.

    “It’s an incredible sorrow to me, the thought of having these records thousands of miles away from the people who made them,” said Ryan Boothe, a history instructor at Washington State University in Vancouver and a member of the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe. “It just seems like another blow to tribal people.”

    In 2019, the federal Public Buildings Reform Board identified the Seattle Archives facility among a dozen federal properties as “High Value Assets.” PBRB wants to sell them to a real estate developer.

    In January last year, the Office of Management and Budget approved the sale. Ferguson’s office wrote a letter to PBRB asking them to reconsider and requested public records related to the sale, which the agency never provided, according to a press release from Ferguson. In response, Ferguson’s office filed Freedom of Information Act lawsuits in August and September.

    The January lawsuit is intended to stop PBRB’s plan to sell the facility in early 2021 — a plan that Ferguson’s office only became aware of in November 2020 while conducting unrelated research. PBRB claimed the covid-19 pandemic, and its impacts on the real estate market, justified an expedited sale. PBRB did not consult Ferguson’s office, tribes or stakeholders about the decision.

    The archives are a treasure trove of local history. As well as tribal records, they include records relating to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII and over 50,000 files documenting the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

    Boothe used the archives to research Native American veterans of WWI and to uncover the stories of Indian boarding school students at Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon. One student, Boothe learned, fought in WWI, returned, got a law degree and eventually sued the school for waste, fraud and abuse. He did not win the case, but achieved some reforms.

    To his surprise, Boothe also found letters from his own great-great-grandfather and his great-grandmother, who attended the school. Encountering the physical link to his own past was a moving experience that corroborated family stories.

    “To lose that facility in Seattle is a break with our past in a very physical way,” Boothe said.

    The archives contain a huge number of tribal treaty records and others maintained by the Bureau of Indian Affairs that “go back to pretty much the beginning of federal presence here in this area,” said Alexandra Harmon, professor emerita of American Indian Studies and History at the University of Washington, who used them to research her history books on Native peoples in the Northwest.

    They are primary sources detailing the ways federal officials and tribes negotiated treaties and land claims, records of tribal council meetings, of schools and other programs the BIA oversaw. They can tell us how Native people viewed events and what they were trying to do throughout history, Harmon said. “In many cases these are the only records that Indian people, that tribes have, of what has happened.”

    In the Seattle area, the Duwamish Tribe relies on the archives for its 40-year quest for federal recognition and to preserve its history, according to a declaration included in the motion written by Duwamish Tribe Chairwoman Cecile Hansen. “Records currently located in the National Archives, but not yet reviewed by the Tribe, offer critical evidence to finally convince the U.S. government to recognize our existence,” Hansen wrote.

    Leonard Forsman, Chairman of the Suquamish Tribe and President of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, remembers researching Suquamish history in the archive, when he was a student, for the tribe’s effort to build an archive and eventually a museum. He researched the experiences of Suquamish elders forced to attend the Tulalip Boarding School as children in the 1900s — an effort to assimilate them and strip them of their culture.

    For the Suquamish, records at Sand Point helped tell their story and dispel “racist opinions about who we were, who we should be.” They helped the tribe educate non-Natives living on the reservation in north Kitsap County about the tribe’s right to self-governance. “We were able to tell people about who we were, what happened to us and why we were going to move forward with what our treaty rights were.”

    When tribes have legal questions or disputes, key evidence is often found in treaties and other historical documents. Commonly, “history is essential to resolving those issues,” said Harmon, who also spent 15 years working as an attorney for tribal governments in Western Washington.

    Tribes use the BIA records and court records to provide evidence in ongoing legal cases about tribal treaty rights, including rights to land, fishing, hunting and natural resources.

    “In order to defend a case or bring a case forward, you need the background to be able to prove your case,” said Thomas Wooten, chairman of the Samish Indian Nation. “And these records are key in a lot of what’s happening in the Northwest now with treaty rights and water rights.”

    Disputes about tribal fishing rights — with huge implications for tribal sovereignty — were resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1979, following the Boldt decision of 1974 that affirmed fishing rights for treaty tribes and their right to 50% of the yearly catch, Harmon noted. The key question in the cases was what precisely tribes and the regional governor intended in 1850 when they signed treaties giving up Native residence in exchange for fishing rights — and the answers lay in historic records.

    When the Samish Nation was trying to re-establish its off-reservation fishing rights, the tribe learned it had been removed from a list of federally-recognized tribes due to a clerical error. It took the tribe 27 years of litigation to regain the recognition. If the tribe hadn’t had access to the archives, “I don’t know that we would have been able to put it together,” Wooten said. And if the archives were in California or Missouri, “It might have been another 27 years on top of that.”

    The Samish Nation is currently involved in a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals case over treaty hunting rights.

    Ferguson’s lawsuit claims that the National Archives facility cannot be sold under the Federal Assets Sale and Transfer Act, which exempts the sale of federal properties if they are used for “research in connection with federal agricultural, recreational or conservation programs.”

    The lawsuit also alleges that the federal government failed to consult with tribes and other stakeholders, which violates rules governing federal-tribal consultation, and that the OMB violated administrative procedures by neglecting to establish “standards, criteria and recommendations” required by Congress.

    “These days it’s pretty easy to consult with tribes,” said Leonard Forsman, who said there was no meaningful effort to do so.

    “To be blunt, these federal agencies don’t give a damn about their legal obligations or what these documents mean to our region,” Ferguson is quoted saying in the press release from his office.

    Moving the archives would be harmful for scholarly research about the history of Native people in the Pacific Northwest, Harmon said, of which there is surprisingly little published.

    Students who want to get an advanced degree in history, anthropology or geography, for example, need to write a book-length manuscript based on original research, Harmon said. “If the focus is on this region or Alaska, they’re going to want to spend a lot of time at Sand Point in those archives there,” Harmon said. “That’s just unavoidable.” Most graduate students simply couldn’t afford to fly to California or the Midwest to do this research.

    “I think just about every Native person across the Northwest and Alaska could find their own family stories in those documents,” Boothe said.

    Wooten of the Samish Nation knows he can go to the records and research his family history, on both the Native and settler sides. “It does tie you back to your ancestors and makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger,” he said. “And sometimes we need that.”

    The Samish Nation is producing a history book with the help of the archives, said Wooten, “so our history isn’t lost and is somewhat accessible.”

    He is chairman of a tribe that is expanding economically and re-acquiring its traditional homelands. The ability of the Samish to live in and govern their traditional territory is “critical to self-determination,” he said.

    “In order to be a government, you need to have land,” he said. “Sometimes you have to prove the connections, and you can’t do it without the history that’s there at the archives.”

    The Maiden of Deception Pass

    The Maiden of Deception Pass

    By Elizabeth Bentz

    Picture Rosario Beach. The soft sands of the shore, the rocky tidepools, the beautiful ocean views, the sound of the waves softly crashing ashore, and the Maiden of Deception Pass watching over it all.

    This Winter the Deception Pass Park Foundation, in partnership with Washington State Parks and the Samish Indian Nation, replaced the panels around the Maiden of Deception Pass story pole at Rosario. The old panels were deteriorating from the elements and the beautiful, culturally important Samish story could hardly be read. The new panels revived the story’s words depicting the guardian of the sea, Ko-kwal-alwoot, who looks over her Samish people. For those who are unfamiliar with the story pole, the Maiden of Deception Pass is an iconic element of the park. The history of how this magnificent story pole was created, makes one pause to reflect on the strong connections between community and place.

    It all started in 1980 when a local Anacortes artist, Bill Mitchel, created a citizens group to bring public art focused on the island’s history to the area. Two years later, in 1982, Mitchel presented a small wooden replica of the Maiden to the group. Mitchel believed the Samish, whose members had always called the island their home, were an integral part of Fidalgo’s history. The Samish supported the idea for a story pole. Their federal recognition was lost due to clerical error and their members were spread out across the world. They hoped the story pole would help to build connection for tribal members to the land and their heritage.

    The construction of the Maiden began on March 1st, 1983 when a cedar log was brought from Mount Baker to the house of a local carver, Tracey Powel. Powel, in close connection with tribal members, was tasked with bringing the Maiden to life. The carving was to show the two sides of Ko-kwal-alwoot: the beautiful maiden on one side and her life in the sea on the other.

    Once the Maiden was carved, a home was needed for her, and Deception Pass State Park was the favored location. A 5-foot model of the Maiden was carried around the park as Grandma Laura Edwards, a Samish Ancestor, decided where she would finally rest. On September 24th, 1983, the Maiden story pole was placed at Rosario Beach and dedicated by the Samish.

    Today, visitors from all over come to see the Maiden and read her story. The Maiden of Deception Pass honors a place for members of the Samish Indian Nation, who are once again a federally recognized tribe, to celebrate their heritage and connection to the land. Here she will remain to share her story and guard over her Samish People.

    Much of this article was summarized from the Maiden of Deception Pass video created by the Samish Indian Nation.

    Watch the video: Samish Nation and Microsoft Teams