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Squaxin Island Tribe

Squaxin Island Tribal members are direct descendants of the maritime people who lived and prospered along the shores and watersheds of South Puget Sound for untold centuries. Because of their strong cultural connection with the water, they are also known as the People of the Water. They are the: Noo-Seh-Chatl - Henderson Inlet watershed Steh-Chass - Budd Inlet watershed Squi-Aitl - Eld Inlet watershed T'Peeksin - Totten Inlet watershed Sa-Heh-Wa-Mish - Hammersley Inlet watershed Squawksin - Case Inlet watershed S'Hotle-Ma-Mish - Carr Inlet watershed Nestled between the rugged mountain peaks of the Olympic Peninsula and the snow-capped volcanoes of the Cascade mountains, within the heart of the inland sea and rich evergreen forests, there shines a pearl of great
beauty; a small island known as Squaxin. Squaxin Island is centered near the entrances to the seven inlets of southern Puget Sound which surround it like the crosspoles of a sacred hoop. This tiny island of sea fog and rain, salmon and cedar, is where the tribe's life blood begins and flows. Delicacies offered from the "heart of the earth," the sea, such as clams, oysters and salmon, have always been highly respected by Squaxin Island people. The aquatic creatures that sustain them and give them life offer much more than mere physical nourishment; they provide spiritual sustenance as well. On Christmas Day, 1854 the Treaty of Medicine Creek was negotiated in Chinook Jargon, a trade language inadequate to convey the complex issues of treaty making. This treaty, signed on December 26, was the first in Washington Territory. Approximately 600 people attended the negotiations, although it was raining and miserably cold. Out of thousands of square miles, the small island, four and a half miles long and one-half mile wide, was retained as the main area for all of the far South Puget Sound people to reside. The island was given the name of the Squawksin of Case Inlet, and became known as Squaxin Island. The neighboring tribes of Nisqually and Puyallup were also signatories to the Treaty of Medicine Creek. The Indian war of 1856-57 erupted after the tribes became fully aware of the terms of this treaty and fought to secure a more suitable landbase. During the war hundreds of Indian people were confined on Squaxin Island which subsequently became the local area Indian agency headquarters. A school, blacksmith station and church were built there. The Indian agency wanted to make farmers of the island residents, trying unsuccessfully to force them to settle down in one place and raise crops. However, this was not a productive way of life for people oriented to the rich resources of the land and sea. When the war ended in 1857, the people resumed their traditional way of life, harvesting berries and roots such as camas during the summer and returning to the salmon runs in the fall. Gradually Squaxin Island people began to leave the island to take up permanent residence near their original homes. By 1862 the number of island residents had dwindled to 50. With so few tribal members remaining on the island, the Indian agency headquarters was moved to Puyallup. By 1959 only four-year-round residents continued to live on the island. When the "Indian War" ended, men worked as loggers, and many families earned their living in the hop and berry fields. However, they continued to harvest salmon, smelt, herring, clams, and oysters, and the women made baskets and cedar dolls for sale in Olympia. An Indian basket-collecting fad created a profitable, although time-intensive, occupation around the turn of the century. Steamer ships drew near to the island each Saturday morning, picking up the Squaxin Island women who stood on floats loaded with their goods to sell in Olympia. Saturday became known as "Indian Day" and was eagerly awaited. Those who had moved to the mainland would often return to the island for a potlatch with family and friends. There are no year-round residents on Squaxin Island today, yet it is looked upon by tribal people as the bond that unites their past, present, and future generations. Squaxin Island is used for fishing, hunting, shellfish gathering, camping, and other activities. Only tribal members are allowed on the island, but permits can be obtained through the tribe's natural resources department for tribal members to take friends on the island with them.

Tribal headquarters are now located in Kamilche, between Little Skookum and Totten Inlets, where hundreds of acres of land has been purchased and a thriving community has been established. The General Council of all members elects a seven-member council that oversees all branches of Tribal government and enterprise.

Squaxin Island was one of the first 30 tribes in the nation to enter into the Self Governance Demonstration Project with the federal government. Now the Tribe establishes its own priorities and budgets for funds previously administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The Squaxin Island Tribe is governed by a Tribal Council consisting of seven members who are elected during annual general body meetings and serve staggered terms. Tribal Council meetings are held at least twice a month, and are open to all enrolled Tribal members. During these meetings, the Tribal Council establishes laws, rules and regulations governing the Squaxin Island Reservation. They also make decisions and negotiate with other governmental agencies and organizations for the benefit of Tribal members and the environment. The Executive and Deputy Executive Directors work to ensure all departments are performing their duties in accordance with the wishes of the Tribal Council and the General Body. These departments include Community Development (DCD), Cultural Resources, Health & Human Services (HHS), Human Resources (HR), Information Systems (DIS), Tu Ha' Buts Learning Center (TLC), Legal, Natural Resources (NR), Planning and Public Safety. Each department is guided by one director, and staff work under the direct supervision of program managers.