The Nooksack Tribe is a Northwest Indian Tribe that lived in the modern-day state of Washington. They remain a sovereign nation on their reservation and have approximately 2,000 members.
Nooksack Tribe History
The Nooksack tribe lived on land that would eventually cross the United States and Canadian borders. The land was from southern British Columbia to northern Washington and from modern-day George Strait to Mt. Baker.
This homeland belonged to the Nooksack tribe for thousands of years, and unlike many other Native American Tribes, they do not have any history outside of this land. It is believed that they have lived in this land since humans arrived in it.
A better description of their homeland and surrounding tribes is available on the official Nooksack Website:
The primary Nooksack area was the Nooksack River watershed from near its mouth to its headwaters surrounding Mt. Baker, plus most of the Sumas River drainage south of the present international boundary. There was a separate kin group (family) ownership of root digging plots at Nuxwsá7aq, the place that gave its name to the river and the people. Other non-Nooksack people could use the resources in the Nooksack area if they shared descent from Nooksack ancestors or if they were tied to living Nooksack families by marriage. Joint-use areas occurred at the edges of Nooksack territory, including the upper North Fork shared with the Chilliwack, the upper South Fork also used by Skagit River people, and Lake Whatcom with a mixed Nooksack and Nuwhaha village. All of the saltwater areas used by the Nooksack were also used by other groups: Chuckanut Bay, Samish Bay, and Bellingham Bay were shared with the Nuwhaha, Samish, and Lummi; Cherry Point, Birch Bay, Semiahmoo Bay, and surrounding areas were shared with the Lummi and Semiahmoo.
250 years ago, the population of the Nooksack was around 1,200 people. At the time, they occupied around 15 villages.
However, like all Native Americans, when they came in contact with new diseases, their population was devastated. Some tribes lost close to 80% of their population, and while the Nooksack did not see those losses, they did see many deaths when smallpox and other diseases spread through their villages.
The tribe was similar to others in the region in that they were excellent hunters and fishermen. The women often foraged after food.
In 1855, they took part in the Point Elliott Treaty, which exchanged their land for recognition of fishing, hunting, and gathering rights. Due to not having tribe status at the time, the Nooksack were not given a reservation. It would not be until the Homestead Act of 1884 that the tribe was able to make claims on the land.
By the 20th century, the traditional villages had changed to include cedar plank longhouses, and their villages looked more like an American model than a native one. Despite the change in appearance, the tribe continued to operate how they had always operated. They continued to depend on hunting and fishing for their diet.
According to the official website of the Nookack tribe, the Nooksack were recognized as a tribe in the mid-20th century:
In the 1950s, the Tribe, under the leadership of Joe Louie, pursued a land claim case with the Indian Claims Commission (ICC). The ICC decided in 1955 that the Nooksack were indeed a Tribe of Indians whose lands had been taken without compensation, but that they only “exclusively occupied and used” a small portion of their traditional territory (Indian Claims Commission, Docket No. 46). It was further decided that the value of the lands at the time of the treaty was $0.65 per acre and only this amount would be paid. A payment of $43,383 for 80,000 acres of the 400,000 acres claimed was provided by Congress in 1965. The 400,000-acre claim includes a large majority of the places named in the Nooksack language that are south of the U.S.-Canada boundary. The land claim money was distributed in equal portions on a per capita basis to each recognized descendant of the Nooksack Tribe of 1855.
Like many of the Northwest tribes, the Nooksack tribe was a peaceful tribe. They lived in harmony with other tribes around them and were masters of living off their resources.
Their people lived on the same land for thousands of years until American expansion, and even then, they seemed to maintain much of their independence.
Unlike the Northeast, Southeast, Plains, and Southwest tribes that came into military conflict with the Europeans and later the Americans, the Nooksack tribe bargained with them and, in doing so, never saw retaliation from the military.