Published on January 5, 2013 by Amy
Nisqually is a Lushootseed Native American tribe in western Washington state in the United States. The tribe lives on a reservation in the Nisqually River valley near the river delta. The Nisqually Indian Reservation, at 47°01′12″N 122°39′27″W, comprises 20.602 km² (7.955 sq mi) of land area on both sides of the river, in western Pierce County and eastern Thurston County. In the 2000 census, it had a resident population of 588 persons, all in the Thurston County portion, on the southwest side of the Nisqually River.
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The Nisqually is a subdialect of the southern dialect of Lushootseed, which belongs to the Salishan family. The Nisqually called themselves the Squalli-Absh (sq̓ʷaliʼabš), which means “people of the grass country” in Lushootseed.
The tribe moved onto their reservation east of Olympia, Washington, in late 1854 with the signing of the Medicine Creek Treaty. As reaction to the unfairness of the treaty, many members of the tribe led by Chief Leschi engaged and were eventually defeated by the US Army in the conflict known as the Puget Sound War in 1855-56.
The Nisqually Indians originally inhabited the interior woodlands and coastal waters from Mount Rainier west to Puget Sound. The lifestyle of the Nisqually, like many other Northwest Coastal tribes, revolved around fishing for salmon. In 1917, Pierce County, through the process of condemnation proceedings (eminent domain), took 3,370 acres (14 km²) for the Fort Lewis Military Reserve.
The Nisqually people have lived in the watershed for thousands of years. According to legend, the Squalli-absch (ancestors of the modern Nisqually Indian Tribe), came north from the Great Basin, crossed the Cascade Mountain Range and erected their first village in a basin now known as Skate Creek, just outside the Nisqually River Watershed’s southern boundary. Later, a major village would be located near the Mashel River.
The Nisqually have always been a fishing people. The salmon has not only been the mainstay of their diet, but the foundation of their culture as well. The Nisqually Tribe is the prime steward of the Nisqually River fisheries resources, and operate two fish hatcheries: one on Clear Creek and one on Kalama Creek.
The Nisqually Tribe is located on the Nisqually River in rural Thurston County, 15 miles (24 km) east of Olympia, Washington. As of the year 2005, the tribe had a service area population of 5,719 Native Americans, 600 of whom reside on the reservation. An additional 5,119 service population members live off the reservation in Thurston and Pierce Counties. Tribal land holdings, on and near the Nisqually reservation, exceed 1,000 acres (4 km²)—all of which has been reacquired since 1986.
The original reservation was established by the Medicine Creek Treaty of December 26, 1854. The reservation consisted of 1,280 acres (5.2 km²) on Puget Sound. On January 20, 1856, an executive order enlarged it to 4,717 acres (19.1 km²) on both sides of the Nisqually River.
On September 30, 1884, land was set aside and divided into one-family allotments on both sides of the Nisqually River. The land did not include the river. The people lived in peace for a while harvesting fish from the river and growing potatoes on the prairie tracts.
They also received few government rations. In the winter of 1917, the U.S. Army moved onto Nisqually lands and ordered them from their homes without any warning. Later, the Army reallocated 3,353 acres (13.6 km²) of their land to expand the Fort Lewis base.
On September 9, 1946, the tribe’s constitution and bylaws were approved. The constitution was amended in 1994. The governing body of the Tribe is the General Council comprising all enrolled tribal members 18 years of age or older. The day-to-day business and economic affairs of the tribe are overseen by a tribal council composed of seven tribal members elected by the tribe’s voting membership.
One of the four North Thurston Public Schools middle schools is named for the tribe.