heritage & Culture

Muckleshoot History

Our Origins, Ancestors, and Identity

The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe is composed of descendants of the Native people who inhabited the Duwamish and Upper Puyallup watersheds of central Puget Sound for thousands of years before non-Indian settlement. For centuries, Muckleshoot ancestors inhabited the Puget Sound region, with villages lining the waterways throughout the Duwamish River basin.

Our ancestors fished for salmon, trout, and steelhead all along the rivers and the Sound, collected shellfish on Puget Sound, hunted for game, harvested huckleberries and other resources throughout their traditional use areas of the Cascade Mountains, and weaved baskets out of the sacred cedar trees that were once plentiful in the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest.

Our modern history is complicated and often painful, shaped by an era of prejudice, injustice, and displacement. Our people have endured countless hardships since our ancestors signed treaties with Governor Stevens.

But we stand strong.

Muckleshoot Treaties and Transformation

Injustice, poverty, grit, perseverance, cultural continuity, and reclamation punctuate our story, which continues today with a renewed sense of hope and prosperity for our future.

Scroll for a comprehensive history of the Muckleshoot Tribe's inception following settler contact nearly 200 years ago.

The Treaties of Medicine Creek and Point Elliott

In December 1854, Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens negotiated the Treaty of Medicine Creek with the Native people of the area, including Puyallup, Nisqually, and Squaxin Island.

Governor Stevens then journeyed to Mukilteo, where he negotiated the Treaty of Point Elliott with the Duwamish, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, and other Indian Tribes and bands occupying the area between the White River and Canadian border.

Canoes on the beach at a Native camp in Seattle, circa 1885. Photo courtesy of Museum of History & Industry, Seattle, SHS2174.

Among Puget Sound Tribes, the Muckleshoot uniquely possesses rights under two treaties: the Treaty of Point Elliott and the Treaty of Medicine Creek.

Chief Si’ahl or Seattle — whose mother was from one of the Duwamish bands on the lower White River ancestral to the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe and whose father was Suquamish — signed the Treaty of Point Elliott for the Duwamish and Suquamish Tribes.

Under two treaties, the Native people of Western Washington ceded their territory in exchange for a promise made by the United States. It stipulated that they would retain small reservation homelands and would be free to fish, hunt, and gather the resources on which they depended at off-reservation locations.


Fox Island Council

Following the negotiations of the Treaties of Medicine Creek and Point Elliott, war broke out between the settlers and the ancestral Muckleshoot groups due to the Tribes’ extreme unhappiness about being displaced and excluded from land that had been promised through the Treaties. In 1856, Governor Stevens met with Muckleshoot ancestors and other Indians on Fox Island in an effort to address Indian dissatisfaction with the reservations established in the Treaties of Medicine Creek and Point Elliott.

At the meeting, Stevens agreed to establish the Muckleshoot Reservation. Official records clearly show that the Indians present understood that a wedge of land beginning at the junction of the White and Green Rivers would be included as part of the reservation. However, the documents that led to the Executive Order of January 20, 1857, only refer to the Muckleshoot Prairie and the military station, whose buildings would be turned over to the Indian Department.

Between 1859 and 1868, efforts were made to rectify this error by including all land between the White and Green Rivers as part of the Muckleshoot Reservation. These efforts culminated in February 1868, when the Secretary of the Interior recommended that President Andrew Johnson sign an Executive Order designating all land between the White and Green Rivers as part of the Muckleshoot Reservation.

Unfortunately, the Executive Order arrived on President Johnson’s desk during the chaotic period of his impeachment and was either set aside or misplaced. No action was taken to either approve or disapprove the expansion of the Muckleshoot Reservation.


Establishment of the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation

Group in front of Jerry Dominick’s house, Muckleshoot Reservation, December 17, 1917.  Left to Right: Mrs. John Seattle, Daniel James, Betsy Whatcom, Mary Dominick, Samson, Charlie Sotiakum, Joseph Bill, Bob James (in doorway), Big John (present at the Treaty signing), Nancy Big John, Little John / John Newhauken, John Seattle. Photo courtesy of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe Preservation Program Library, Archives & Repository (Arthur C. Ballard Collection).

Even though the Muckleshoot Reservation was created in 1857, Muckleshoot ancestors continued to stay in their villages until that land was claimed by settlers. People established off-reservation settlements at the mouth of the Duwamish River as well as on several locations in the Duwamish River drainage. They also took Indian Homestead claims. Gradually, over the next 40 years as pressure from settlers increased, Indian people moved from their traditional villages throughout the Duwamish, Lake Washington, and Upper Puyallup drainages to the Muckleshoot Reservation.

While the Muckleshoot people had given up title to thousands of acres of land, they believed their home on the reservation, coupled with their retained treaty rights to hunt and fish off-reservation, would sustain them, assuring the continuation of their culture and society.

This movement of Native people was a turning point in Muckleshoot history, where generations of Tribal members eventually moved to the reservation lands to start a new era of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe.

1870s - 1950s

Allotments and Loss of Tribal Lands

Fishing weir under construction in the White River four miles southeast of Auburn, WA, in the summer of 1902.  Photo courtesy of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe Preservation  Program Library, Archives & Repository (Arthur C. Ballard Collection).

When the expansion of the Muckleshoot Reservation was again taken up in the early 1870s, every other section of land in its vicinity had been granted to the railroads. Thus, when the reservation was finally enlarged by Executive Order in 1874, the expansion only included land sections extending diagonally along the White River.

United States policy in the latter half of the 19th century sought to break up Tribal communal landholdings by allotting reservation lands to individual Indian families. They did this to encourage Native people to assimilate to western culture, breaking up the lands and pushing them to pursue farming and agriculture. In 1904, the Muckleshoot Reservation was allotted under the Treaty of Medicine Creek with lands assigned to 16 different families. Since the reservation was so small, there was no land left to remain in Tribal hands.


In 1936, the Tribe formally reorganized its government and adopted a constitution approved by the Secretary of the Interior under the Indian Reorganization Act.

Shaker Church, circa 1950s.  Photo courtesy of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe  Preservation Program Library, Archives & Repository.


Establishing a Tribal Government and Sense of Community


Despite the hardships they faced over the years, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe maintained a cohesive community and government structure, preserved its culture, and built its own Community Hall.

In the 1960s, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, together with the Puyallup and Nisqually Tribes, repeatedly challenged state efforts to prohibit Indian fishing at traditional fishing locations.

Muckleshoot Treaty Trek, May 18, 1966.  Left to right: Larry Maurice, Robert Moses, Sherman Dominick, Cecil Moses. Photo courtesy of Museum of History & Industry, Seattle, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Collection, 1986.5.4450.1, photo by Robert H. Miller.

In 1970, these actions led the United States to file a lawsuit against the state of Washington to definitively determine the nature of the fishing rights reserved in the treaties concluded by Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens.

The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, along with other Pacific Northwest Tribes, joined in that lawsuit. The United States v. Washington decision (known as “the Boldt Decision” after Judge George Boldt) was rendered in 1974 and subsequently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. It held that the Tribes that are party to the Stevens Treaties had reserved by treaty the right to take 50% of the fish available for harvest at traditional Tribal fishing locations.

The Court also affirmed the United States’ recognition of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe as a treaty tribe, as it is a political successor to villages and bands of Natives on the Duwamish River system and Upper Puyallup bands that were party to the Treaties of Point Elliott and Medicine Creek.

1970s - 2010s

An Era of Economic Rebirth for Muckleshoot

Muckleshoot canoe on Elliott Bay.


This wave of resurgence of treaty rights for the Tribes brought about a renewed hope for the Muckleshoot to reclaim what was lost during the treaties of the 1850s. The Tribe’s systematic approach to land reacquisition continues today as it rebuilds ownership of the reservation.

As of 2020, the reservation lands totaled nearly 4,000 acres. In addition, the Tribe owns the Tomanamus Forest, 105,000 acres of working forest land in King, Pierce, and Lewis counties that helps provide educational, career, and recreational opportunities for Muckleshoot Tribal members.

Muckleshoot fisherman on Elliott Bay.


Building a Brighter Future for the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe


The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe has become one of South King County’s largest employers, supporting 3,300 direct jobs and providing hundreds of millions of dollars to the regional economy. The Tribe also supports environmental protection and enhancements, educational opportunity, and social services with highly diversified investments and revenue streams.

While Tribal members continue to rely on fishing and hunting, today’s reservation-based economic enterprises provide Tribal members with jobs, educational opportunities, health care, housing assistance, and other important services. The Tribe’s flourishing economic enterprises have given life to the Tribe and benefited the surrounding areas.


The Tribe now also has close partnerships with the City of Seattle and local government agencies, and is more formally receiving recognition as Seattle’s first people. In 2023, Alaskan Way, the main street along the Seattle waterfront, was renamed Dzidzilalich to acknowledge the ancestral villages that once stood there. The Tribe has also partnered with professional sports teams in the area like the Seattle Seahawks, the Seattle Mariners, and the Seattle Kraken. The Tribe is continuing to diversify our interests and provide value to the regional economy, while honoring our heritage and telling the story of our people’s history in this region.

A partnership with the Seattle Kraken was announced in February 2023 ― in which Muckleshoot becomes the first Native American Tribe featured on a jersey patch for a major professional sports team.

Photo courtesy of Seattle Kraken

Seattle's first-ever Tribal Nations Summit was held in May 2023, wherein Tribal and urban Native leaders, Mayor Bruce Harrell, and Council President Debora Juarez created shared commitments.

Photo courtesy of the Office of
the Mayor, Bruce Harrell

An honorary Dzidzilalich street sign was unveiled in 2023 and was marked with a ceremonial blessing from the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. Dzidzilalich was the largest Duwamish village in what is now Seattle, and means “a little place where one crosses over.” In the early 1850s, the Indians and non-Indians in the area used that name to refer to the town that later came to be called Seattle.

Photos by John Loftus