The Treaty of Point Elliott

Published on April 16, 2012 by Amy

Love this article and want to save it to read again later? Add it to your favourites! To find all your favourite posts, check out My Favourites on the menu bar.

Duwamish Camp on Seattle Waterfront
Duwamish Camp on Seattle Waterfront

The Treaty of Point Elliott was signed on 22 January 1855, at Muckl-te-oh or Point Elliott, now Mukilteo, Washington, and ratified in spring 1859. Signatories to the Treaty of Point Elliott included Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens and representatives from the Duwamish, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, Snohomish, Lummi, Skagit, Swinomish, and other tribes. The Duwamish signatories to the treaty were si’áb Si’ahl (Chief Seattle), si’áb Ts’huahntl, si’áb Now-a-chais, and si’áb Ha-seh-doo-an. Other prominent Native American signers included Snoqualmoo (Snoqualmie) and Snohomish chief Patkanim, identified on the treaty as Pat-ka-nam; Skagit chief Goliah; and Lummi chief Chow-its-hoot. The treaty guaranteed both fishing rights and reservations. The treaty established the Port Madison, Tulalip, Swinomish, and Lummi reservations. Reservations for the Duwamish, Skagit, Snohomish, and Snoqualmie are conspicuously absent.

dna testing, dna ancestry testing, ancestry, genealogy, indian genealogy records, paternity testing, turquoise jewelry, native american jewelry

As noted above, Coast Salish did not have permanent political offices or formal political institutions that were understood by Whites. Due to a documented mix of motivations, Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens appointed chiefs of tribes in order to facilitate goals of his administration. The Point Elliott Treaty is further complicated by the style of governor Stevens, and the gulf of misunderstanding between the parties.

The treaty contains provisions that raised concern by an attorney in the employ of the Natives at the treaty negotiations. It also contains the now-famous provision cited by Judge Boldt 118 years later:

The right of taking fish at usual and accustomed grounds and stations is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory,

According to Hazard Stevens, son of Isaac Stevens, “The salient features of the policy outlined [by Governor Stevens to his advisers] were as follows:

1. To concentrate the Indians upon a few reservations, and encourage them to cultivate the soil and adopt settled and civilized habits.
2. To pay for their lands not in money, but in annuities of blankets, clothing, and useful articles during a long term of years.
3. To furnish them with schools, teachers, farmers and farming implements, blacksmiths, and carpenter, with shops of those trades.
4. To prohibit wars and disputes among them.
5. To abolish slavery.
6. To stop as far as possible the use of liquor.
7. As the change from savage to civilized habits must necessarily be gradual, they were to retain the right of fishing at their accustomed fishing-places, and of hunting, gathering berries and roots, and pasturing stock on unoccupied land as long as it remained vacant.
8. At some future time, when they should have become fitted for it, the lands of the reservations were to be allotted to them in severalty.”

These goals were significantly different from the verbal assurances provided during negotiations, and all the Native Nations were oral cultures.

After the Treaty
The United States government did not fulfill its commitments to the Duwamish under the Point Elliott Treaty. The Duwamish did not receive a reservation and, indeed, a proposed reservation was specifically blocked in 1866. Some Duwamish joined other tribes and moved onto reservations. Many moved to the Port Madison Reservation, some to the Tulalip or Muckleshoot reservations. Others refused to move. Some Coastal Salish were passionately unwilling to leave their “usual and accustomed places” (a common 19th century phrase that became treaty terms), to a degree nearly inconceivable to Whites today. The People of the Inside and the People of the Large Lake (the Duwamish) in what is now Seattle were (and are) no exception.

n the mid-1860s the U.S. Superintendent of Indian Affairs proposed a Duwamish Indian Reservation along the White and Green River Valleys. In 1866, some 152-170 King County settlers petitioned Arthur Denny, the Territorial Delegate to Congress, against a reservation for the Duwamish tribe on the then-Black River, near what is now Renton and Tukwila. The first signature was Chas. C. Terry (Charles Terry), followed by Arthur himself and David Denny, H. L. Yesler (Henry Yesler), David “Doc” Maynard and virtually all of the Seattle establishment of the time. The petition was forwarded to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The BIA withdrew the proposal.

Visible Native presence in the City of Seattle had disappeared by 1910, effected primarily by City proscription (c. 1865) and in part by repeated arson.

Tribal status
The Duwamish Tribe adopted a constitution, bylaws, and further structure in 1925, but as of 2009 they are not recognized as a tribe by the United States federal government. Individually, the Duwamish people continue to be recognized by the BIA as legal Native Americans, but not corporately as a tribe.

Tribal membership criteria vary by tribe. For the Duwamish, in accordance with Salish tradition, enrollment is by the applicant providing a documented genealogy. Consequently, not all Duwamish today are members of the Duwamish Tribe. The Duwamish Tribe recorded about 400 enrolled members in 1991 and about 500 in 2004. The tribe is of moderate size with respect to moderately-sized federally-recognized Washington tribes.

The Duwamish were party to land claims against the federal government in the 1930s and 1950s. Following the Boldt Decision (1974, upheld 1979) they sought inclusion per the Treaty of Point Elliott, and in 1977 filed petition, together with the Snohomish and Steilacoom (Chillacum) for federal recognition that is still pending as of 2009.

The Duwamish Tribe’s chances of federal recognition hinge, in large part, on proving they have “continually maintained an organized tribal structure since their ancestors signed treaties with the United States in the 1850s.” U.S. District Judge George Boldt (1903–1984) found in 1979 that the tribe had not existed continuously as an organized tribe (within the meaning of federal law) from 1855 to the present, and was therefore ineligible for treaty fishing rights. A gap in the record from 1915-1925 prompted Boldt’s decision.

According to Russel Barsh, attorney for the Samish in that tribe’s effort to gain recognition, which succeeded in 1996, “the Samish proved in a hearing that Judge Boldt’s decision against these tribes was based on incomplete and erroneous evidence.” This would argue for allowing an appeal of the decision.

In the mid-1980s the BIA concluded that since the Duwamish Indians have no land, they cannot be recognized as a “tribe”.

In June 1988, 72 descendants of Washington settlers reversed their ancestors and petitioned the Bureau of Indian Affairs in support of federal recognition of the Duwamish tribe. The signers were members of the Pioneer Association of the State of Washington, which maintains Pioneer Hall in Madison Park as a meeting hall and archive of pioneer records.

In the mid-1990s proposals were made in Congress to extinguish all further efforts by unrecognized tribes to gain recognition. These were defeated. Success or continued failure tends to drift with the national mood and leanings of Congress. Effectively, recognition turns upon the mood of Congress with respect to honoring treaties with Native Americans. Occasionally tribes succeed, in such as with the Boldt Decision in 1974.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) denied recognition in 1996. The tribe then assembled additional evidence for its active existence through the decade in question. Evidence was assembled from Catholic church records, news reports, oral histories, and further tracing of bloodlines. Ken Tollefsen, a retired Pacific University anthropologist, helped assemble the additional data. This new evidence prompted the Bureau of Indian Affairs to reverse its 1996 decision, and the tribe briefly won federal recognition in January 2001, in the waning days of the Clinton administration. However, the ruling was voided in 2002 by the Bush administration, citing procedural errors.

The Tulalips have opposed efforts by local unrecognized tribes, contending that the Tulalip tribe (a post-Treaty construct) are the heirs of an amalgam of unrecognized tribes. This is also the case where it comes to the Muckleshoots. Such potentially adversarial intentions notwithstanding, the Duwamish Tribe (as of November 2009) are currently continuing their litigation for the purpose of gaining tribal recognition in the ongoing case Hansen et al vs. Kempthorne et al, Western Washington Federal District Court, King County, Washington, Judge John C. Coughenour presiding. The Duwamish Tribe continue to publicly request donations, and (as of November 2009) have raised some, but not all, of the requisite costs of this litigation, in order to be able to continue their long-standing efforts for their existence as a legitimate tribe to be formally acknowledged and recognized by the federal government.

Recent history
Unlike many other Northwest Coast indigenous groups, many Duwamish did not move to reservation lands, yet still retain much of their cultural heritage. In recent decades notable elders are recovering and younger members are further developing that heritage.

Members of the Duwamish continue to be involved in Seattle’s Urban Indian culture, as represented in such institutions as United Indians of All Tribes and the Seattle Indian Health Center.

While there had been few visible signs of traditional Native culture in Seattle since the early 20th century, in March 1970 local Indians burst back into visibility on the most unmistakable way. Bob Satiacum (Puyallup), United Indians founder Bernie Whitebear (Colville Confederated Tribes) and other Native Americans invaded and occupied then-active Fort Lawton, which was originally Indian land, by scaling fences and by scaling the bluffs from the beach. The base had been declared surplus by the Department of Defense. Under Treaty of Point Elliott, the United Indians of All Tribes presented a claim to all lands that might be declared surplus. After worldwide interest, long negotiations and congressional intervention, an eventual result was construction and a 99-year renewable lease with the City of Seattle for a 17-acre (69,000 m2) site adjacent to the new Discovery Park after the decommissioning of most of the base. The result was Daybreak Star Cultural Center (1977), an urban base for Native Americans in the Seattle area.

Cecile Hansen, great great grandniece of Chief Sealth, has been the elected chair of the Duwamish Tribe since 1975, as well as a founder and the current president of Duwamish Tribal Services. In line with the re-asserted Native presence in Seattle, the Tribe established Duwamish Tribal Services in 1983 as a non-profit 501[c]3 organization to provide social and cultural services to the Duwamish Tribal community. Hansen has also dedicated herself to gaining treaty rights for the Duwamish.

James Rasmussen of the Duwamish Tribe has been a leader since 1980 in efforts to restore the Duwamish River, working with citizens groups and other tribe members. Accomplishments include gaining federal Superfund Site status for the last 5 miles (8.0 km) of the river from Turning Basin and Herring House Park to the mouth. The lower Duwamish was the former concentration of Duwamish villages before substantial European contact. The most contaminated spots are being dredged and capped, largely c. 2007, overseen by the Port of Seattle and the United States Environmental Protection Agency‎—and watchdogged. Complications ensue from the difficulties in tracing those responsible. Riparian cleanup and habitat restoration continues with citizens groups together with the Port.

In the era since contact with people of European descent, names have changed along with tribal societies.
The present-day name Duwamish is an anglicization of Dxʷ’Dəw?Abš or Dkhʷ’Duw’Absh, “the People of the Inside”, or more literally “the People Inside the Bay”. This tribal designation also includes the historic “People of the Large Lake” (Xacuabš, Xachua’bsh, hah-choo-AHBSH or hah-chu-AHBSH, People of HAH-choo or Xachu, “People of a Large Lake”, “Lake People”).

The identical anglicization Duwamish has also come to designate the Duwamish River, which, since its straightening in the early 20th century, has been officially known as the Duwamish Waterway. The People of the Inside called the river, including what is today known as the Cedar River, Dxʷdəw. The names all originate with dəkʷ or dəgʷ from dəw for “inside something relatively small” (in this case Elliott Bay with respect to Puget Sound).

The name Seattle is also of Lushootseed origin. The famous Duwamish leader from whom the city name derives is now best known as Chief Seattle, from si’áb Si’ahl, “high status man Si’ahl”. The form Sealth is also used, as in the name of Chief Sealth High School. His gravestone gives his name as a baptized Roman Catholic: Noah Sealth. Another transcription of the name Si’ahl is see-YAHTLH. Lushootseed (Skagit-Nisqually) Coast Salish did not have political chiefs in a European sense, so “chief” is also rather arbitrary. Chief Seattle was prominent in both the Duwamish tribe and the Suquamish tribes(Suquamish is an anglicization of Dkhʷ’Suqw’Absh; this has no English translation beyond “People of Suq’ʷ.” Suquamish is also found as [xʷsəqʷəb], [suqʼʷábʃ], [ʔítakʷbixʷ], [ʔitakʷbixʷ]).

The name Seattle for the city dates from as early as 1853; the naming is attributed to David Swinson ‘Doc’ Maynard.

The Duwamish language, Southern Lushootseed, belongs to the Salishan family. The tribe is Lushootseed (Whulshootseed) (Skagit-Nisqually) Coast Salish. The Lushootseed (pronounced [dʷlɐʔʃútsid]) pronunciation of the people of the Duwamish Tribe is [dxʷdɐwʔabʃ] or Dkhʷ’Duw’Absh, or less accurately, Dkhw’Duw’Absh (see the footnote for a pronunciation brief). English does not have equivalents for half of the sounds in the language.

Source: wikipedia Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
Cite This Source | Link To The Treaty of Point Elliott
Add these citations to your bibliography. Select the text below and then copy and paste it into your document.

American Psychological Association (APA):

The Treaty of Point Elliott Unabridged. Retrieved May 24, 2015, from website:

Chicago Manual Style (CMS):

The Treaty of Point Elliott Unabridged. Native American Encyclopedia (accessed: May 24, 2015).

Modern Language Association (MLA):

"The Treaty of Point Elliott" Unabridged. Native American Encyclopedia 24 May. 2015. <>.

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE):, "The Treaty of Point Elliott" in Unabridged. Source location: Native American Encyclopedia Available: Accessed: May 24, 2015.

BibTeX Bibliography Style (BibTeX)

@ article {NativeAmericanEncyclopedia.com2015,
    title = { Unabridged},
    month = May,
    day = 24,
    year = 2015,
    url = {},
You might also like:

Tags:  , , , , , ,

Facebook Comments

You must be logged in to post a comment.