Online Highways Home > Washington > Bellingham

Lummi Indian Nation

Search Bellingham Washington

According to one account, the word "Lummi" is a shortened version of "Nuglummi," which is roughly equivalent to "people," as the Lummi summarized themselves. The Lummi constitute the principal tribe of better than 20 small Salishan-speaking groups who originally inhabited the lower shores, islands and eastern back country of today's Puget Sound area in Washington.

The Lummi Reservation comprises a five-mile long peninsula located in western Whatcom County, seven miles northwest of Bellingham, Washington, and 95 miles north of Seattle.

A brief history

The original Lummi spoke the Songish dialect of the Salish language, a cultural feature that persists to the present. Their ancient villages bore the evocative names Hutatchl, Lemaltcha, Statshum and Tomwhiksen. For 12,000 years, the Lummi subsisted near the sea and in mountain areas. They returned seasonally to their longhouses situated at scattered locales on the present reservation and the San Juan Islands. Their protein-rich diet consisted principally of salmon, followed by trout, shellfish, elk, deer, other wildlife, starchy camas bulbs and sun-dried berries.

The Lummi social structure was family centered and village oriented, marked by complex interrelationships. Leaders earned their status by their wits and demonstrated ability. The Lummi were accomplished artisans in the crafting of boats, seine nets, houses and numerous other artifacts, and they were part a sophisticated regional political network.

The Lummi didn't begin to experience foreign national influences until about 1800. Then the Lummi Nation traded for half a century with Russians, Spaniards, Japanese and Englishmen prior to contact with traders from the United States. By 1850, the Americans took up where the others left off. Like their predecessors, the United States traders didn't desire what the Lummi economy produced; rather, they aggressively wanted their raw materials and land. By the mid-19th century, the Lummi people began to experience the demise of their vibrant social and political structures.

Also around 1850, the Lummi were converted to Christianity through the efforts of the Roman Catholic Casimir Chirouse and later Oblate fathers. A mission was established on what would be their reservation.

In 1855, the Lummi Nation signed the Treaty of Point Elliot with the U.S., which called for the natives to relinquish much of their homeland in western Washington Territory. In return they were assigned land reserved for them that initially consisted of 15,000 acres. The reservation also was intended for the Nooksack, Samish and other local natives, but was primarily inhabited by the Lummi. By 1909, the Indians on the Lummi reservation, including several smaller bands, numbered altogether only about 435 souls, a decrease by half in four decades.

In 1948 the Lummi Nation adopted a tribal constitution, amended and ratified in 1970, which created the present government structure: a tribal business council.

That year, the council filed a claim with the Indian Claims Commission for additional money from the United States, arguing that the amount granted to them in the 1855 treaty was too low. The commission argued that $52,067 was a fair market value in 1859 and would not allow an additional amount, so the tribe appealed. In 1972 the U.S. Court of Claims ruled that the commission had placed the bare minimum fair market value on the land in 1859. The court reversed that decision and set a fair value of $90,634.13. On Oct. 22, 1972, the tribe was awarded the difference in the amount of $57,000.

For thousands of years, the Lummi and other tribes had fished without adversely affecting the salmon runs. Beginning with the white man's arrival, however, the salmon population went into sharp decline. Overfishing, the compromise of salmon streams by logging practices, farming, and the proliferation of cities, were to blame. In addition, dams intersected large sections of rivers where salmon once propagated.

The Lummi and 19 other treaty tribes also suffered under a century of policy and practice by the dominant society that excluded them from the commercial salmon fishery of western Washington. However, in 1974, U.S. Federal District Court judge George Boldt handed down a decision that defined Indian fishing rights and guaranteed treaty Indians 50 percent of the allowable salmon harvest.

Fishing would continue to be the principal means of livelihood for most of the Lummi. The tribe faced the salmon decline by forming a galvanized front that now plays a salient role in maintaining the region's fish stocks and responsibly managing the threatened salmon resource. Part of that effort is represented by their reservation salmon hatchery.

The Lummi Tribe today

The Lummi constitute a federally recognized Indian tribe of approximately 3,400 members operating under a constitution and bylaws approved by the Secretary of the Interior on April 10, 1970.

The Lummi Reservation today consists of approximately 12,000 acres under Indian control. It is governed by an 11-member unit, the Lummi Indian Business Council. All tribal members over the age of 18 are members of a democratically spirited general council that meets at least once a year to elect a third of the business council. The business council appoints members to serve on committees that oversee tribal enterprises on the general council's behalf.

A representative sample of enterprises includes:

  • Silver Reef Casino

  • Fisherman’s Cove Complex grocery store and marina

  • Texaco station and A&W Drive-In

  • Lummi Indian Seafood Company

  • Lummi Head Start

  • Lummi K-12 School

  • Northwest Indian College, a two-year institution.*
  • The tribe maintains a main administration office that oversees a dozen tribal services, and an Overall Economic Development Plan (OEDP) office that is reponsible for an annually updated economic development plan. In addition, a records and archives department preserves important tribal historical and business documents.

    Tribal health and preventive programs include 1) general comprehensive medical and dental services, 2) Women, Infants and Children (WIC), 3) family planning, 4) community health outreach (CHR) and 5) health education. They also include mental health, nutritional and environmental health programs. Two psychiatrists and a pediatric dentist serve as consultants. The Lummi Nation also operates a walk-in direct care facility.

    In their own words:

    "We are Lummi. We are Coast Salish people with a rich history, culture and traditions. We are fishers, hunters, gatherers and harvesters of nature's abundance. We envision our homeland as a place where we enjoy an abundant, safe, and healthy life in mind, body, society, environment, space, time and spirituality; where all are encouraged to succeed and none are left behind."


    *In addition, two companies are privately owned by Lummi members:

  • Fish Point Seafoods

  • Smoked Fish Processing.
  • Location: Bellingham Washington

    Other History nearby:
    (Bellingham) American Museum of Radio and Electricity
    (Bellingham) American Radio Museum
    (Anacortes) Anacortes History Museum
    (Bellingham) Antique Radio Museum
    (Oak Harbor) CCC Interpretive Center
    (Victoria) CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum


    Request a Free copy of the Mile-by-Mile Guide to the Oregon Coast, which will be delivered to your USA postal address. Also request a free first issue of Oregon Coast magazine and sign up for coast deals.

    10/21 Coming to The Bellingham area
    Seattle Japanese Cultural Festival Seattle WA April26-28 The festival features Japanese exhibits, performances, and demonstrations. Held at the Seattle Center in the Fisher Pavilion. The annual festival began in 1976 with a gift of 1,000 cherry trees to the city of Seattle from the Japanese government to celebrate the U.S. Bicentennial.
    Leavenworth Spring Bird Fest Leavenworth WA May16-19 Learn about the wide variety of migratory birds that come here for a brief, but important part of their year: the breeding season. Hear the songs sung only during the breeding season.
    Northwest Folklife Festival Seattle WA May24-27 Music and dance performances, visual arts, folklore exhibits, hands-on children's activities, workshops, crafts, food, demonstrations, and more!
    Berry Dairy Days Burlington WA June13-16 Fresh local strawberry shortcake, spectacular fireworks show, fabulous parades, Kiwanis Salmon BBQ, entertainment stage with live music, nostalgic Berry Cool Car Show.
    Bellevue Strawberry Festival Bellevue WA June22-23 Entertainment, an auto show, vendors, food, and family fun are all highly visible parts of the festivities.
    Chief Seattle Days Suquamish WA August16-19 The Coastal Jam, a Pow Wow with competition dancing and drumming, a parade, Fun Runs, craft and food vendor booths, and the Chief Seatle Days Youth Royalty Pageant.