Understanding Local Indian Tribes

Ted Maloney

This is a set of readings, resources and questions for students to answer to get a better understanding of local Indian tribes, their history, and their governmental activities today. Students often don’t know that tribes that were here prior to white settlement, are still here and that they are functioning self-determining governments.

Read about Indian tribal governments in Chapter 6 in the publication The State We’re In: Washington. Your guide to state, tribal and local government by the League of Women Voters of Washington Education Fund. It is included in a rich collection of curriculum resources about Tribes in Washington maintained by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), titled Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State. https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/resources-subject-area/time-immemorial-tribal-sovereignty-washington-state


  1. Where do you live? Whose land was it before non-Indian settlers began arriving?
  2. Can you identify the modern Indian tribe that is the successor to that original owner?
  3. Where is that Tribe located from where you live? Have you ever been to their reservation?
  4. Check out their website – what services and resources do they provide to their community? What political issues are they actively engages in or concerned about at local, state or federal levels?
  5. How can you be an ally to local Indian tribal communities in helping to ensure their rights of self-determination on issues they care about are respected?


Tribal ceded lands WA.png
Map of original land areas belonging to Tribes of Washington which were ceded (transferred) to the United States by treaty or by executive order in 1850s-60s. Darker brown areas are land areas still retained today by the Tribes as reservation lands. By Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), Washington state, 2012. TribalAndCededLands_8x11.pdf

A good example of efforts by Indian people to preserve their lands is that of Chief Moses. For a brief history of Chief Moses and his efforts to preserve his people’s homeland, see https://www.historylink.org/File/8870.

Tribal Chief Moses in DC photo.png
Chief Moses (seated at left) of the Sin-kah-you people of north-central Washington, on a mission to Washington DC to petition President Rutherford Hayes for what became the short-lived Moses Reservation (see map).  File:Chief Moses et al.jpg – Wikimedia Commons (public domain).
Map of aboriginal areas of 12 confederated Colville tribes, including Chief Joseph’s tribal group. (By Bureau of Indian Affairs) Covington, Lucy Friedlander (1910-1982) – HistoryLink.org

See also – Map of Tribal cultural groups prior to European arrival. What Are Tribal Nations and Reservations? – The Wellian Magazine (duke.edu)

There are a number of maps that graphically show the rapid loss of Indian lands in the area occupied by the United States today. The Great West Native Americans The Culture of (slidetodoc.com)
The following is a brief timeline of key developments that led to the circumstances Tribes are in today:

  • Laws of European nations (1400s) – cannot take occupied lands by “discovery” or unjust war. Indigenous lands must be purchased or acquired by treaty, one sovereign to another.
  • But most treaties that Native Americans signed with the U.S. government were broken or ignored.
  • Native Americans were systematically removed from their lands and often killed (“Five Civilized Tribes” case).
  • Eventually removed to reservations; prevented from voting until 1924
  • 1880s -1920s Assimilation and Allotment – “surplus” reservation lands were given to whites (e.g., Yakama, Swinomish reservations)
  • 1934 – Indian Reorganization Act restored tribal governments, ended assimilation policy
  • 1950s – Congress terminated some tribes’ legal status(e.g., Klamath in Oregon)
  • 1975- Indian Self-Determination Act


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Diversity and Social Justice - Faculty Guide (2021 Edition) Copyright © 2021 by Ted Maloney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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