Courtesy Michael Schramm/USFWS
The Nisqually Canoe Family offers a traditional song at the 2014 dedication of the Norm Dicks Visitor Center at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. From left, USFWS Director Dan Ashe, Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell, retired U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, and Sen. Maria Cantwell.

‘Never Give Up Fighting’: 10 Things to Know About Nisqually Tribe

Richard Walker
6/24/16

The Army moves in: The Nisqually Reservation was initially 1,280 acres. It was enlarged by executive order in 1856 to 4,717 acres on both sides of the Nisqually River. “In the winter of 1917 the U.S. Army moved onto Nisqually lands and ordered them from their homes without any warning,” according to the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs. “Later on, the army condemned 3,353 acres of their land to expand the Fort Lewis base. The Nisqually were paid $75,840 for land and improvements. Then on April 28, 1924 they were awarded $85,000.”

Today, the Nisqually Reservation is 2.7 square miles, or 1,728 acres, although the Nisqually Tribe maintains certain rights throughout its historical territory and, with the state, is a co-manager of the state’s salmon fisheries and habitat.

One of the region’s last great prairies: The prairies of south Puget Sound once covered approximately 160,000 acres. Today, an estimated 23,000 acres of native prairie remain – 20,000 of it on historically Nisqually land within Joint Base Lewis McChord. Historically, this prairie was maintained by the Nisqually people. Camas, a traditional food plant, was so abundant here that the 1806 explorer Meriwether Lewis took, at first glance, the fields of blue flowers to be “lakes of fine clear water."

Today, the prairie supports “a rich array of native birds, flowers and butterflies, some of which are found nowhere else in the state or the world,” according to the base public works website. The prairie is open to the public.

The Nisqually River originates on Mount Rainier. “We know Mount Rainier as Tahoma, or Teqwu?ma?, which means ‘Don’t forget the water,’” Nisqually Tribal Council member Hanford McCloud said.  “The mountain – where the Nisqually and other glacial rivers begin – is the lifeline for the whole region.” (Courtesy Walter Siegmund/Creative Commons)

Nisqually National Wildlife Reserve: This 4,500-acre refuge was created in 1974 to protect the diverse fish and wildlife that call the Nisqually River Delta home. Myriad bird species, harbor seals, otters, salmon, and many other animals live in these expansive tideflats.

Congress renamed the refuge the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in 2015, after the late environmental warrior and defender of human rights.

“When visitors come to the wildlife refuge, I want them to sense the spirit of Billy Frank Jr. and the work of all of the tribes to defend and preserve our beautiful land and resources,” said U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, sponsor of the legislation to rename the refuge. “Without that context, the background and history of our area gets lost. This is a way to preserve not just the refuge, but the stories surrounding it.”

Adams said of the wildlife refuge: “It’s a high honor to have that named for him. When we look out here and see Mount Rainier, where the Nisqually River and other glacial rivers begin, it’s a connection point between his life and the marine life and the plant life. Hopefully, things will happen in time that things will be brought back – the salmon and the killer whales and the depleted flora and fauna.”

Medicine Creek Treaty Ceremony. Much was lost in the Treaty of Medicine Creek – 2.24 million acres. But much was saved by the ancestors: land on which the People had exclusive rights; preservation of the People’s right to harvest fish and shellfish and to hunt “at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations” in their historical territory; and a guarantee of education and medical care as part of the payment for the land that was ceded.

Article IV of the U.S. Constitution states that all treaties “are the supreme law of the land.” Later court ruling upholding the treaty rights to fish established the Nisqually Tribe as a co-manager of the state’s fisheries, with input on proposed actions that could affect fish habitat.

The Nisqually Tribe will host a Medicine Creek Treaty Ceremony during the Canoe Journey, according to Nisqually Tribal Council member Sheila McCloud, “not only to commemorate the treaty but to embrace and reaffirm the relationship between the Medicine Creek Treaty Tribes.”

Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission Chairman Billy Frank Jr. and former Puyallup Tribe Chairwoman Ramona Bennett chat during the celebration of the 40th anniversary of U.S. District Court Judge George Boldt's ruling in U.S. v. Washington in 2014. His ruling, known as the Bolt Decision, upheld Treaty Tribes' right to fish in their usual and accustomed areas. (Richard Walker)

Leading employer: The Nisqually Tribe is one of the largest employers in Thurston County, home of Olympia, the state capital. Nisqually Tribe enterprises include the Red Wind Casino, Nisqually Markets, Rez Mart, Nisqually Federal Services, Nisqually Public Safety Corrections Facility, and She-Nah-Nam Seafood.

The Nisqually Tribe also owns more than 200 acres within the Gateway Town Center development, in the Olympia suburb of Lacey. According to Nisqually Tribal Council member Hanford McCloud, the Nisqually Tribe is considering developing a convention and cultural center at the Gateway.

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