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Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe

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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, Suiattle, Cascade, Stillaguamish, and Skagit river drainages. Today's Sauk-Suiattle reservation, centered in Darrington, comprises two parcels in both Snohomish and Skagit counties.

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 found upriver.

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 Washington.

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 years later.

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 by 1924.

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 River.

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:

  • Police Department.

  • Tribal Health Facility.

  • Children and Family Services Department.

  • Environmental Department.

  • Law Office.

  • Housing Department.

  • Education Department, and others.
  • The tribe holds an annual powwow in June for cultural rejuvenation and recreation.

    Location: 5318 Chief Brown Lane, Darrington Washington 98241 Telephone 360-436-0131

    Other History nearby:
    (Bellingham) American Museum of Radio and Electricity
    (Bellingham) American Radio Museum
    (Bellingham) Antique Radio Museum
    (Snohomish) Blackman House Museum
    (Everett) Everett Museum
    (La Conner) Gaches Mansion

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    08/23 Coming to The Darrington 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.
    Apple Blossom Festival Wenatchee WA April1-May5 A delicious part of the Apple Blossom Festival is the Washington State Apple Blossom Festival Food Fair.
    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.