Upper Skagit Tribal Historical Overview

The Upper Skagit Indian Tribe is a federally recognized Indian tribe composed of eleven predecessor bands, including the Nuwha’ha, Nookachamps, Bsigwigwilts, Bsxwexwehwa’1, Chobahahbish, Sabelxu, Saylayotsid, Shayayotsid, Kwabatsabsh, Sahkumehu, and Skaywih. The Nuwha’ha had winter villages just above the Skagit delta, along the Samish River and adjacent territories. Bsigwigwilts upriver winter village locations extended along the Skagit River in the vicinity of Sterling and the Nookachamps were located along Nookachamps Creek. All of these bands either had villages and/or summer fishing and shellfishing locations and camps on the saltwater and the Bsigwigwilts also had villages on the saltwater. Predecessor bands harvested on saltwater locations including Skagit Bay, Deception Pass, Whidbey Island, Camano Island, Padilla Bay, Samish Bay, and Chuckanut Bay. The largest predecessor group was the Sabelxu, located in the vicinity of Concrete, but, importantly, controlled the intersection of the Skagit and Baker Rivers. The last band on the Skagit River was Kwabatsabsh, including a winter house at Newhalem.

At the time of the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855, members of these bands carried on fishing, shellfishing, hunting and gathering activities from the saltwater areas all the way to the mountainous upper reaches of the Skagit River, adjacent areas and, for hunting and gathering, even into Eastern Washington. Upper Skagit people hunted game (including deer, elk, cougar, and mountain goat), on mountains and high locations, at streams and lakes, at meadows and on the plains. A two-mile logjam at the site of the present-day town of Mt. Vernon discouraged white settlement along the Skagit River until it was dynamited in 1878, but Upper Skagit people resisted the movement of settlers and surveyors up the Skagit Valley. Conflict in 1886 led the Upper Skagit to warn all settlers to leave the area or be harmed. More than one hundred canoes of people met with settlers to protest the seizure of their lands.

Dr. Bruce Miller, Professor, Department of Anthropology
University of British Columbia


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