Treaty of Medicine Creek
Change came very rapidly. Captain Vancouver, who headed the British Expedition, sailed through the area in 1792. Lt. Peter Puget upon first entering our lands named many of local sites. In 1833, the Hudson Bay company sent a party to Puget Sound. They were to pick a site on the southern sound for a trading post. Fort Nisqually was to be that site and became the center of the British trading company’s activities.
Washington became a territory in 1853. Isaac I. Stevens became the first territorial governor. He also was the Superintendent of Indian Affairs and the Superintendent of the Northern Pacific Railroad survey.
Our people extended their hands in brotherhood and friendship and assisted many who were seeking refuge and a better life. Soon the new settlers were fast crowding out our own people. The Federal Government opened up the lands to settlement. Our ancestors were convinced to sit down and negotiate a treaty with the United States Government.
On a cold winter day before Christmas, December 24, 1854, our people along with other tribes and bands signed their X’s to the “Medicine Creek Treaty – Three reservations were created: At Puyallup, Nisqually and Squaxin Island. Not only were the original reservations too small, but they were poorly situated. As a result of this miscommunication our people went to war.
Finally in late August of 1856, the government through their representative Issac I. Stevens, again renegotiated the treaty. The Puyallup Reservation was expanded. To this day our people recognize the injustice that prevailed. Records show our reservation boundaries extended by thousands of acres from what was finally decided upon by both parties in 1873, by Executive Order, and the final decision of creating the allotment map in 1886.
The largest numbers of Indian families were forced to go to the reservation at Puyallup. The allotments in 1886 assigned specific areas to these families. In total there were 178 allotments made at Puyallup. One small area, later named Indian Addition was the only property held in common ownership by the tribe.
Congress awarded a land grant to the Northern Pacific Railroad to build a line from Lake Superior to Puget Sound. In 1873, the railroad announced that it would build its terminus; on Commencement Bay. It would name its city “Tacoma”, after the Puyallups’ mountain Takkobad. Consistent reports back to the eastern part of the country about the valuable land and waterfront marred any possibility of the Puyallups living content upon a reserve.
Congress appointed several commissions to study the reservation and the potential sale of lands thereon. Taxation leases and misunderstanding of property law resulted in almost the entire reservation going out of tribal ownership early on. There were guardians appointed to our people (if they resisted selling their lands), some leaders were even mysteriously murdered.
By 1950 there were approximately ten families who still owned their assigned lands in whole or in part. A stubborn persistence of even the BIA in not recognizing the reservation prevailed. Thirty acres and several parcels which were being leased remained.
In spite of all obstacles, the elected leadership of the Puyallup Tribe has managed to prevail. In 1936, by the adoption the Wheeler Howard Act and subsequent adoption of the Constitution and By-laws under which they operate.
Today the Tribal Council is a seven person elected body that oversees the operation of all programs which the tribe manages. The Tribal Council is the governing body of the Tribe in accordance with the authority of its sovereign rights as the aboriginal owners and guardians of their lands and waters. This right to self-government was reaffirmed in the Medicine Creek Treaty and the Constitution and bylaws as amended, which have been approved by the United States Department of Interior. The Council is both a legislative and an administrative body charged with the governing of the tribe. Their responsibilities and authorities are explicitly defined.
The Tribal Council serves three-year terms. They are elected by the general membership. The Puyallup Tribe has a wide variety of programs that are open to not only the membership, but to the many Indian people who are living in the area. It is estimated that this population exceeds 32,000. Currently, the number of people employed by the tribe is approximately 1,800. We recognize that we are a major employer in Pierce County. Every effort is made to find meaningful employment for the membership.