Online Highways Home > Washington > Tacoma

Puyallup Indian Tribe

The Puyallup people constitute a Native American tribe residing on a reservation in western Washington's Puget Sound area. The reservation is unusual in that it lies within the city limits of several municipalities. The citified reservation is the home of more than 80,000 residents of various ethnic backgrounds.

A brief history

The original name of the tribe was spwiya'laphabsh, meaning generous or welcoming. The tribe originally spoke the Puyallup Nisqually tongue of the Salishan family of languages spoken among Northwest Coast original peoples.

Salmon was the main food and an important object of veneration in Puyallup ceremonies. The Western red cedar was used extensively for shelter, clothing, and basketry. The Puyallup were fishers, gatherers, and hunters. They inhabited permanent dwellings along the riverbank. They were closely related to the Nisqually, a larger number of natives residing in the Nisqually River valley.

The first European settler of the Puyallup region was a Dr. Tolmie, who arrived in the early 1830s. He, an Indian guide, and a number of other natives made their way through the valley in which about 2,000 Puyallup lived. Many more settlers would aggressively encroach upon the area over the next couple of decades, which exerted a hugely negative impact on the Puyallup and neighboring tribes.

Finally, to try to shore up their way of life, the Puyallup tribe established relations with the U. S. government on December 16, 1854. Under duress, they and other tribes negotiated with Isaac Stevens, the Washington territorial governor and Indian agent. The result was the Treaty of Medicine Creek, by which the tribes ceded most of their territories, but reserved certain lands and rights -- including fishing rights.

The Puyallup reservation was established by the treaty and originally comprised 1,280 acres. On January 20, 1856, the reservation was enlarged to 18,062 acres. The people raised wheat, oats and hay on natural meadows near tidal flats on the reservation. Article 10 of the treaty provided for a physician to address the health needs of the Puyallup tribe.

Beginning with the 1877 Dawes Act, a congressional allotment program, the Puyallup reservation was broken up. To encourage farming, Congress authorized the division of reservation land among individual Indians with the exception of a tribal cemetery; and much of the land is now in the city of Tacoma. Tacoma's growing population spurred locals to seek removal of restrictions on allotted reservation lands. On March 3, 1893, an act provided for the selection of allotment portions that were not required for Indian homes, and part of a tract that wasn't required for school purposes. The selected acreage was put up for sale by public auction. The 1893 statute provided that reservation land not sold would remain in Indian hands and not sold for 10 years. Following that decade, non-Indians could transact directly with Indians. Half of the reservation was sold during that time.

Under the auspices of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, which promulgated new rights for Native Americans, the tribe drafted a constitution that was approved by the secretary of the interior on May 13, 1936. The governing body was dubbed the Puyallup Tribal Council.

Bob Satiacum, a proponent of Native American rights -- in particular treaty fishing rights -- was a well-known Puyallup tribal leader in the 1960s and '70s. Satiacum first gained notoriety in 1954, when he was apprehended for fishing unlawfully in the Puyallup River at Tacoma. He believed that he had a right by treaty to fish there. Satiacum was convicted; however, the Washington State Supreme Court overturned his conviction. Years of legal disputation followed over the issue. In addition, "fish-ins" were staged by Satiacum and his supporters, including Marlon Brando, who lent celebrity status to the effort. Eventually, the historic Boldt Decision of 1974 was handed down, which held that treaties signed with native tribes and the federal government in the 1850s entitled the tribes to 50 percent of the total fish harvest.

On February 20, 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that a dozen acres acquired by the Port of Tacoma in 1950 properly belonged to the Puyallup. President George H.W. Bush signed a bill that settled Puyallup tribal claims. The tribe was compensated in the amount of $77.25 million.

The Puyallup today

There are approximately 2,600 members on the Puyallup tribal rolls. Members elect a seven-member Tribal Council, which serves as the governing body. The tribe maintains health, safety, education and welfare services. Those services include alcohol and other drug treatment, mental health counseling, and youth and family programs. Law enforcement also is a responsibility of the Puyallup nation. The council also acts as the board of directors for Puyallup Tribal Health Authority. The tribe holds that medical care is a treaty right, paid for with the cession of vast tracts of tribal land and resources in 1854.

The tribe operates several facilities:

  • Puyallup Tribal Health Facility

  • Chief Leschi School for young school-age tribal members

  • Medicine Creek College, a two-year community college open to the public

  • Puyallup Tribal Museum

  • Puyallup Fish Hatchery

  • Chinook Landing Marina on the south shore of Commencement Bay
  • Emerald Queen riverboat casino site on the Port of Tacoma waterfront, and another gaming facility on Interstate 5.*
  • There are approximately 216 full-time tribal employees and 16 part-time employees.

    The Puyallup tribe, in collaboration with the Pierce County Department of Emergency Management, has developed a natural hazard mitigation plan. According to the plan, "Hazard mitigation planning is the process of determining how to reduce or eliminate the loss of life and property damage resulting from natural and human-caused hazards."

    Recently there have been concerted endeavors to rekindle a commitment to the Puyallup cultural heritage and ancestral values, which were nearly lost due to efforts at assimilation by the dominant culture. The fishing industry's rebirth, reclaiming the native language, revival of traditional medicine, midwifery, and crafts, are enjoying more popularity. It is believed essential for tribal health to uphold traditional ways of living with nature, while living with the rest of society.


    *In 2004, the tribe purchased a hotel in Fife, Washington, to start a new casino, The Emerald Queen Casino and Hotel. They planned to move their riverboat operation to the new facility.

    Location:Tacoma Washington

    Other History nearby:
    (Bainbridge Island) Bainbridge Island Historical Museum
    (Seattle) Ballard Avenue Historic District
    (Olympia) Bigelow House Museum and Neighborhood
    (Black Diamond) Black Diamond Historical Museum
    (Bremerton) Bremerton Naval Museum
    (Buckley) Buckley Foothills Historical Society Mus


    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.


    Popular Pages

    More Info

    12/14 Coming to The Tacoma area
    Water Music Festival Seaview WA April1 The Water Music Festival is an all-volunteer non-profit organization dedicated to bringing quality chamber music to the Lower Columbia River Region.
    Astoria-Warrenton Crab and Seafood Festival Warrenton OR April26 Crab and seafood as well as entertainment. Listen to the Astoria HS Jazz Band on Sunday.
    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.
    Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival Hoquiam WA April26-28 Witness the migrating shorebirds at Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge and other birding hotspots in Grays Harbor County.
    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!