Published on October 5, 2013 by Amy
Sauk-Suiattle, or Sah-Ku-Me-Hu, is a federally recognized Native American tribe in western Washington state in the United States. The tribe historically lived along the banks of the Sauk, Suiattle, Cascade, Stillaguamish, and Skagit rivers, in the area known as Sauk Prairie at the foot of Whitehorse Mountain in the North Cascade Range.
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The Sauk-Suiattle Indian Reservation is in this area, centered near the present-day town of Darrington. It lies in two non-contiguous sections: the largest (48°19′16″N 121°32′59″W) is in southern Skagit County, comprising 33.5 acres (13.6 hectares), or 73.5 percent of the reservation’s total land area and all of its resident population of 45 persons (2000 census); the smaller section (48°17′25″N 121°32′36″W), in northern Snohomish County, has a land area of 12.1 acres (4.9 hectares) and no resident population.
The Sauk-Suiattle are part of a group of tribes in the area, including the Skagit, who shared similar cultures and languages that were dialects of Lushootseed, of the larger Salishan language family. Like many Northwest Coast natives, the Sauk-Suiattle relied heavily on fishing for their survival and their livelihood, particularly of the migratory salmon. Their territory was the drainage area of the Sauk, Suiattle and Cascade rivers, in the valley below Whitehorse Mountain of the North Cascades. They had trading relations with tribes east of the Cascades, as well as making trips downriver to other communities on Puget Sound.
The tribe moved onto a reservation in 1855 after the Point Elliott Treaty was made between Washington Territory and the Native American tribes in the area. A sub-chief signed this treaty after the chief refused to cede historical territory to the European Americans. In 1884, their village at Sauk Prairie, which had eight traditional cedar longhouses, was destroyed by European settlers seeking homestead land. Some tribe members moved to the Swinomish Indian Reservation; like the Tulalip Reservation, it had people from many neighboring Coast Salish tribes.
From an estimated pre-1855 population of 4,000, by 1924 the tribe had declined to only 18 persons. Their land claims, to recover traditional lands, were rejected on the basis that the tribe was not separate from the Upper Skagit.
In 1946, the Sauk-Suiattle established a separate tribal entity; they applied through the administrative process with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (US Department of Interior) and were federally recognized as a tribe in 1973. Their written constitution was approved by the Secretary of the Interior in 1975.
They elect seven Tribal Council members for three-year terms on an alternating schedule. They also elect the chairman and vice-chairman. Norma A. Joseph was elected chairman of the tribe in 2012.
Tribal membership has today risen to about 200. The tribe sets the requirements for membership: individuals seeking to enroll must have at least 1/4 blood descent (equivalent to one grandparent) from one or more Native American ancestors recorded in this valley in the 1942 federal census.
Under the Point Elliot Treaty, the Sauk-Suiattle have fishing rights on the rivers. They are a member of the Skagit River System Cooperative together with the Swinomish.
The tribe operates two smokeshops and a country store through its economic development group.
The tribe celebrates an annual pow-wow, held in August. It also holds traditional stickball games in June.
The Sauk-Suiattle language (Lushootseed) belongs to the Salishan family of Native American languages; dialects of Lushotseed have traditionally been spoken by several Salishan groups. Several of these languages are endangered, as speakers are a decreasing number of elders.