Nisqually people

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Billy Frank Elwha Dam.jpg
Billy Frank, Jr. (Nisqually), speaking at the Elwha Dam removal ceremony, photo by Doug Zimmer
Regions with significant populations
United States (Washington)
English, Nisqually
Related ethnic groups
other Coast Salish peoples

The Nisqually (ˌnɪsˈkwɔːliː) is a Lushootseed-speaking Native American tribe in western Washington state in the United States. They are a Southern Coast Salish people.[1] They are federally recognized as the Nisqually Indian Tribe, formerly known as the Nisqually Indian Tribe of the Nisqually Reservation and the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation.

The tribe lives on a reservation in the Nisqually River valley near the river delta. The Nisqually Indian Reservation, at Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found., comprises 20.602 km² (7.955 sq mi) of land area on both sides of the river, in western Pierce County and eastern Thurston County. In the 2000 census, it had a resident population of 588 persons, all in the Thurston County portion, on the southwest side of the Nisqually River.[2]

The tribe moved onto their reservation east of Olympia, Washington, in late 1854 with the signing of the Medicine Creek Treaty. As reaction to the unfairness of the treaty, many members of the tribe led by Chief Leschi engaged and were eventually defeated by the US Army in the conflict known as the Puget Sound War in 1855-56.


On September 9, 1946, the tribe's constitution and bylaws were approved. The constitution was amended in 1994. The governing body of the Tribe is the General Council comprising all enrolled tribal members 18 years of age or older. The day-to-day business and economic affairs of the tribe are overseen by a tribal council composed of seven tribal members elected by the tribe’s voting membership.


The Nisqually is a subdialect of the southern dialect of Lushootseed named Twalshootseed, which belongs to the Salishan family. The Nisqually call themselves the 'Susqually'absh (sq̓ʷaliʼabš), which means "people of the grass" in Twalshootseed.


The Nisqually Indians originally inhabited the interior woodlands and coastal waters from Mount Rainier west to Puget Sound. The lifestyle of the Nisqually, like many other Northwest Coastal tribes, revolved around fishing for salmon. In 1917, Pierce County, through the process of condemnation proceedings (eminent domain), took 3,370 acres (14 km²) for the Fort Lewis Military Reserve.


The Nisqually people have lived in the watershed for thousands of years. According to legend, the Squalli-absch (ancestors of the modern Nisqually Indian Tribe), came north from the Great Basin, crossed the Cascade Mountain Range and erected their first village in a basin now known as Skate Creek, just outside the Nisqually River Watershed's southern boundary. Later, a major village would be located near the Mashel River.

The Nisqually have always been a fishing people. The salmon has not only been the mainstay of their diet, but the foundation of their culture as well. The Nisqually Tribe is the prime steward of the Nisqually River fisheries resources, and operate two fish hatcheries: one on Clear Creek and one on Kalama Creek.

The Nisqually Tribe is located on the Nisqually River in rural Thurston County, 15 miles (24 km) east of Olympia, Washington. As of the year 2005, the tribe had a service area population of 5,719 Native Americans, 600 of whom reside on the reservation. An additional 5,119 service population members live off the reservation in Thurston and Pierce Counties. Tribal land holdings, on and near the Nisqually reservation, exceed 1,000 acres (4 km²)—all of which has been reacquired since 1986.

The original reservation was established by the Medicine Creek Treaty of December 26, 1854. The reservation consisted of 1,280 acres (5.2 km²) on Puget Sound. On January 20, 1856, an executive order enlarged it to 4,717 acres (19.1 km²) on both sides of the Nisqually River.

On September 30, 1884, land was set aside and divided into one-family allotments on both sides of the Nisqually River. The land did not include the river. The people lived in peace for a while harvesting fish from the river and growing potatoes on the prairie tracts.

They also received few government rations. In the winter of 1917, the U.S. Army moved onto Nisqually lands and ordered them from their homes without any warning. Later, the Army reallocated 3,353 acres (13.6 km²) of their land to expand the Fort Lewis base.


Fish, both fresh and smoked, is an important staple in Nisqually cuisine, especially salmon, but also cod, eulachon, halibut, herring, sturgeon, and trout. Shellfish, deer, elk, and sea mammals were traditionally hunted for food. Camas, wild berries, crab apples, and other wild plants are traditionally gathered.[3]

Notable Nisqually


  1. Pritzker 184
  2. Nisqually Reservation, Washington United States Census Bureau
  3. Pritzker 205


  • Pritzker, Barry M. A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-19-513877-1

External links