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
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
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
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
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
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:
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
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.