The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe is a federally recognized Indian tribe whose membership is composed of descendants of the Duwamish and Upper Puyallup people who inhabited Central Puget Sound for thousands of years before non-Indian settlement. The Tribe’s name is derived from the native name for the prairie on which the Muckleshoot Reservation was established. Following the Reservation’s establishment in 1857, the Tribe and its members came to be known as Muckleshoot, rather than by the historic tribal names of their Duwamish and Upper Puyallup ancestors. Today, the United States recognizes the Muckleshoot Tribe as a tribal successor to the Duwamish and Upper Puyallup bands from which the Tribe’s membership descends.
Like all native people of Western Washington, Muckleshoot ancestors depended on fish, animal, and plant resources and traveled widely to harvest these resources. In the winter when travel was difficult they lived in villages along the region’s watercourses relying upon stored foods and local resources. In the summer they dispersed and moved to summer camps and resource gathering areas, where they joined with families from other winter villages in fishing, clamming, hunting, gathering, and other pursuits.
Village groups were linked by ties of marriage, joint feasting, ceremonies, commerce, and use of common territory. This network of kinship ties in addition to tying together ancestral Muckleshoot villages within the Duwamish watershed, extended across watersheds and east of the Cascade Crest. While downriver people intermarried with the Suquamish and other groups along the Sound, people on the upper reaches of the drainages also intermarried with groups east of the Cascade Mountains. This network of family ties gave Muckleshoot ancestors access to fishing, hunting, and gathering sites throughout a broad area, extending from the west side of Puget Sound across the Cascade Crest.
In 1854 and 1855, Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens negotiated treaties with the native inhabitants of Puget Sound. The Treaty of Medicine Creek was negotiated in December 1854 with the Puyallup, Nisqually, and Squaxin Indians. Stevens then journeyed to Mukilteo where he negotiated the Treaty of Point Elliott with the Duwamish, Suquamish, Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Lummi, Swinomish, and other Indian groups occupying the area between the White River and the Canadian border.
In the Treaty of Point Elliott all of the native people of the Lake Washington and Duwamish River watersheds are grouped together as Duwamish. Chief Seattle, whose mother was a White River Indian from one of the Duwamish bands ancestral to the Muckleshoot Tribe and whose father was Suquamish, signed the Treaty for the Duwamish and Suquamish Tribes.
In their treaties, the native people of Western Washington ceded their territory in exchange for the United States’ promise that they would retain small reservation homelands and would be free to continue to fish, hunt, and gather the resources upon which they depended at off reservation locations. The Treaty of Point Elliott established four reservations: Port Madison for the Duwamish and Suquamish, and the Tulalip, Lummi, and Swinomish Reservations.
Following the negotiation of these treaties, in the fall of 1855 hostilities commenced between native people and white settlers on both sides of the Cascade Mountains. Muckleshoot ancestors from villages on the upper portions of the Duwamish watershed and the upper Puyallup participated in the conflict. Other Muckleshoot ancestors from villages located in the lower parts of the Duwamish and White River watersheds were interned during the hostilities.
By the summer of 1856, the conflict in Western Washington had subsided and Governor Stevens held a meeting at Fox Island with representatives of the Nisqually, Puyallup, White and Green River Indians. At the meeting Stevens agreed to changes in the Puyallup and Nisqually Reservations and to the establishment of an additional reservation at Muckleshoot where there was a military fort on the prairie of that name. According to the record of the council meeting Stevens told the Indians present:
“I will give [you ] land between White & Green rivers & I will send a man with you to mark out the ground so that you may be satisfied.”
Official records make clear that the Indians present at the Fox Island Council understood that a wedge of land beginning at the junction of the White and Green Rivers would be included in the Muckleshoot Reservation, preserving an important village site and fisheries on both rivers. However, the documents leading to the Executive Order of January 20, 1857, refer only to the Muckleshoot prairie and the military station whose buildings would be turned over to the Indian Department. Between 1859 and 1868 efforts were made to rectify this error and include all of the land between the White and Green Rivers in the Muckleshoot Reservation. These efforts culminated in February 1868 when the Secretary of the Interior recommended that President Andrew Johnson sign an Executive Order including all of the land in Townships 20 and 21 between the White and Green Rivers in the Muckleshoot Reservation. Unfortunately, the Executive Order arrived on the President’s desk during the chaotic period of President Johnson’s impeachment and was either set aside or misplaced, with no action taken to either approve or disapprove the expansion of the Muckleshoot Reservation to include the land promised by Governor Stevens at the Fox Island Council.
By the early 1870s, when the expansion of the Muckleshoot Reservation was taken up again, railroad grants had been made of all of the odd numbered land sections in the vicinity of the Reservation. Thus, when the Muckleshoot Reservation was finally enlarged by Executive Order in 1874, the enlargement only included land in 5 even numbered land sections extending diagonally along the White River.
In the years that followed the establishment of the Muckleshoot Reservation, as pressure from White settlers increased, Indian people moved from their traditional villages and located on and around the Muckleshoot Reservation. As time passed these Duwamish and Upper Puyallup Indians began to be identified as the Muckleshoot Tribe, rather than by their historic tribal affiliations as members of various Duwamish or Upper Puyallup bands. In 1936, they formally reorganized their government adopting a constitution approved by the Secretary of the Interior under the Indian Reorganization Act.
United States policy in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century sought to break up tribal communal land holdings by allotting reservation lands to individual Indian families and selling “surplus” lands that remained to non-Indians. At Muckleshoot that policy was implemented in the early 1900s when almost all of the Muckleshoot Reservation was divided into allotments that were assigned to Indian families. In the following years tribal members suffering from grinding poverty, discrimination, and substandard housing often were forced to sell their Reservation land to non-Indians in order to survive. During this time period, the State of Washington also increasingly sought to restrict off-reservation fishing, hunting, and gathering activities upon which tribal members depended for their sustenance and livelihood.
In spite of these obstacles and a lack of resources, the Muckleshoot Tribe persevered. The Tribe maintained a cohesive community and government structure, preserved its culture, and built its own community hall. In the 1960s, the Muckleshoot Tribe, together with the Puyallup and Nisqually Tribes, repeatedly challenged state efforts to prohibit Indian fishing at traditional fishing locations. In 1970 these actions led the United States to file a lawsuit against the State of Washington to definitively determine the nature of the fishing rights reserved in the Treaties concluded by Governor Stevens.
The decision in that case, United States v. Washington, was rendered in 1974 and subsequently upheld by the United States Supreme Court. It held that the Tribes that are party to the Stevens Treaties are entitled to take 50% of the fish available for harvest at traditional tribal fishing locations free from most state regulation. It also affirmed the United States’ recognition of the Muckleshoot Tribe as a political successor to Duwamish bands party to the Treaty of Point Elliott, including the band to which Chief Seattle belonged, and a political successor to Upper Puyallups, party to the Treaty of Medicine Creek. Thus, the Court found the Muckleshoot Tribe to uniquely possess rights under both the Treaty of Point Elliott and Treaty of Medicine Creek.
The renewed access to fishing resources that had been promised under the Treaties, but long denied by the State of Washington, resulted in a revitalization of tribal economies and communities throughout Western Washington, including Muckleshoot. Starting in the 1990’s, this revitalization accelerated with the introduction of bingo and casino gaming on the Reservation and has continued with the diversification of the Tribe’s economic enterprises and investments which include: Muckleshoot Seafood Products, the Muckleshoot Mini Mart, the Salish Tree Farm, the White River Amphitheatre, the Salish Lodge, and Emerald Downs.
The Tribe has become a major contributor to the local economy and community providing resources to other governments, schools, nonprofits, and churches throughout Washington. The benefits of the Muckleshoot Tribe’s economic revival go well beyond its financial contributions to the local community. From landmark agreements protecting fish and wildlife habitat, to innovative educational programming, and hundreds of partnerships with organizations serving those in need throughout the state, the Muckleshoot Tribe is contributing to the quality of life of its citizens and neighbors.