The Sauk-Suiattle are descendants of the original Sah-Ku-Me-Hu people, who lived for
numerous generations in the Sauk Prairie region near present-day Darrington
in northwest Washington
. The traditional tribal
homelands were the Sauk
, Cascade, Stillaguamish
, and Skagit
Today's Sauk-Suiattle reservation, centered in Darrington, comprises two parcels in both
The Sauk-Suiattle tongue, Lushootseed, is a member of the Salishan family of Native American
languages and is spoken by several other Salishan groups.
A brief history
For millennia the Sauk-Suiattle fished for salmon, an important staple, in the mountain rivers.
Along the rivers, the tribe constructed durable cedar-plank winter longhouses and fashioned
canoes from the same tree. They often traveled by canoe — some were large oceangoing
craft — downriver to the Puget Sound to harvest shellfish and other sources of nourishment not
They hunted game — especially the mountain goat, with which the tribe had close physical and
cultural ties. Tribal dependence on the animal dating to at least eight millennia ago has been
revealed by archaeological finds. Bones and horns were rendered into tools. Meat was
preserved for wintertime consumption. Goats shed wool on upper mountain meadows in early
summer, which the Indians picked up to weave blankets and garments. Even the Sauk-Suiattle
social order emulated the mountain goat's matriarchal social order as the tribe and herds
coexisted in the North Cascades terrain.
The tribe also trekked eastward over the mountains to gather berries, herbs and roots. They
were proficient horsemen and traded horses with tribes living in what would become eastern
Land-hungry white settlers and others began to arrive in the region in growing numbers by the
1840s, which threatened the Sauk-Suiattle and numerous other tribes' way of life. The year
1855 saw the signing of the historic Point Elliott Treaty, which called for more than a dozen
Northwest tribes to cede their homelands to the U.S. Government in exchange for federally
protected reservations and benefits. Sauk-Suiattle chief Wawsitkin declined to ink the treaty
because he suspected his tribe would not be granted a reservation. Their sub-chief,
Dahtldemin, did sign the treaty, but the tribe would not receive its reservation until nearly 130
Passage of the the U.S. Homestead Act of 1862, which opened land to settlers, would lead to
the destruction of a major Sauk-Suiattle community at Sauk Prairie. The village comprised
eight traditional cedar longhouses that were torched in 1884 by settlers who had claimed the
area under the Act.
The landless Sauk-Suiattle managed to survive in dispersed groups near their ancestral
homelands. Numerous tribal members moved away or were assimilated by nearby tribes, but a
remnant held together on the strength of its culture and tribal government. Before 1855, tribal
membership was estimated to be around 4,000, but their numbers dwindled to fewer than 20
A dozen years later, the Sauk-Suiattle submitted a suit against the federal government's Court
of Claims to claim redress for lands withdrawn under the Point Elliott treaty. The court rejected
the suit. The tribe re-submitted the suit, this time to the Indian Claims Commission. The latter
also dismissed it because the tribe was held to be indistinguishable from the Upper Skagits at
the time of the treaty.
Nevertheless, the Sauk-Suiattle tribe was finally federally recognized as a sovereign tribal
governing entity on September 17, 1975. They were granted reservation status on July 9,
1984, beginning with a 15-acre reservation.
In 2004, 20 families on the Sauk-Suiattle reservation received Wi-Fi-endowed computers,
high-speed Internet access, and training — part of an effort to bring broadband to rural Native
American tribes. The enablers were the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians — Economic
Development Corporation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Verizon.
That same year, the Sauk-Suiattle began work to restore the North Cascades mountain goat
population, whose numbers had dropped to about 100. The tribe received a $170,000 grant
from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to study the population dynamics and habitat of the
animal that has, for many generations, been central to tribal life.
The Sauk-Suiattle today
Today's tribal membership hovers at around 230, most of whom reside on the reservation. The
modern reservation comprises 84 acres, of which 23 are in trust and the remaining acreage is
being placed in trust. A seven-member council conducts tribal affairs according to the
constitution and bylaws, fishing, election ordinances, and law and order codes. They serve
staggered three-year terms.
The tribe holds fishing rights established under the Point Elliott Treaty. They belong to the
Skagit System Cooperative (1976), organized to regulate and enhance fishing in the Skagit
A multi-purpose building provides space for administration, a pre-school, and housing at the
main address in Darrington. There are approximately 45 tribal employees. Several
departments provide services to members and conduct tribal affairs:
Tribal Health Facility.
Children and Family Services Department.
Education Department, and others.
The tribe holds an annual powwow in June for cultural rejuvenation and recreation.