Lummi Tribe

The Lummi Nation are known as the People of the Sea and Salmon People. They were the third largest tribe in Washington State with over 5,000 members. Their culture revolved around the migration of the salmon and constantly found new ways to sustain themselves by fishing. The Lummi lived in the Northwest corner of Washington State.
Introductory Video


[Note: Because the Lummi tribe had traditions of passing down historical events and stories orally, there is little written information about the time before contact with Europeans.]

550-350 B.C.: Early Native Americans probably began inhabiting the Northwest.
50 B.C.: The major groups began separating into smaller groups who took settlement in various places.
400-800 A.D.: All of the historic tribes became distinct villages at this time.
Pre-contact Information
1592: Spanish explorer, Juan de Fuca, traveled into the Northwest which started the Spanish presence.
1762: Smallpox disease broke out among the Northwest tribes at this time.
1792: The area was charted by Captain George Vancouver.
1800: The Lummi began to experience foreign influences around this time. The Lummi Nation traded with many European countries prior to contact with the United States.
1841: Christian missionaries arrived and began conversions on many surrounding tribes. The Lummi's converted to Christianity and a mission was established on what would be their reservation.
1850: America took the place of the other country's impact upon the Lummi Nation by this point in time.
1855: Treaty of Point Elliot: Lummi villages were moved to the Lummi reservation at the mouth of the Nooksak River. Treaty of Point Elliot Video More Information About the Treaty of Point Elliot
1858: Gold was found near the Fraser River which eventually brought in more settlers.
1860: Catholic missionaries began arriving and converting many Indians.
1948: The Lummi Nation adopted a tribal constitution.
1960-1970s: Fishing and logging declined as a civil rights action and cultural revival took place for treaty rights during this time.
1970: The constitution was modified and amended to create a government council known as a tribal business council.
1972: The U.S. Court of Claims ruled that the commission had given the Lummi Indians unequal payment for the land in the treaty of 1955 and thus the decision was reversed and a fair value was set.
1974: U.S. Federal District Court judge George Boldt defined Indian fishing rights and guaranteed them fifty percent of the allowable salmon harvest each year.
2005-Present: Salmon stocks have decreased and the species is presently severely threatened by extinction. Lummi tribe has been confronted by this economic problem.


external image Lummi_Indian_Reservation_Map.png
The Lummi Tribe was mainly located in today's western Whatcom County and the San Juan Islands of Washington State. Before the arrival of Europeans, they lived in a large area that took up most of the Puget Sound in Washington and British Columbia, Canada. The Lummi usually moved around according to the seasons and built villages near the sea and among the highly forested mountainous regions.


The Lummi tribe was one of the many who spoke a Coast Salish language. This language was spoken by the Straits Salish people who encompassed much of the San Juan Islands, south Vancouver Island, and the neighboring mainland.

Social Organization and Government

Most of the Lummi villages were composed of sets of individual families that are usually related called houses. Each house has economic independence from one another, including separate food stores and cooking space. Several houses create a community within the village. Immediate loyalties of a person go directly to the house that they are residing with. Throughout the tribe, a unified political structure was not made, but it was almost always common to see that the large, multifamily houses were predominant. Each house was usually headed by an elder male, but the composition of the people in the houses was mainly of convenience.

This arrangement of government meant that there were social classes, but they were not as important and as crucial to the social organization. Lineage on the other hand, could certainly play a crucial role for an individuals opportunity and access to many of the complicated fishing systems.


The Lummi Nation was able to provide for themselves in the sense that they could make their own clothing. They used the natural resources surrounding them, such as animal hide, cedar tree bark, grass, etc. After European contact, there was change to their clothing only when the trading game began.

Diet and Food Sources

Like many other Coastal Indian tribes, salmon was the most important food source to the Lummi people. Salmon was a huge portion of their diet and the annual intake of salmon reached almost 600 pounds per person. Their main food sources were obtained from reef net fishing for salmon, weir site fishing for salmon, fishing for other species, sea mammal hunting, waterfowl hunting, and land mammal hunting.
external image lummi-reef-net-model.jpg
Picture References and More Pictures (Lummi Reef Net Demonstration)

Because of their large production of salmon fishing, much of the fish was dried and preserved for the winter months. The laborers and workers of the fish nets were always fed first. The needs of the people were met before the owner got anything. Although, there are no accounts where there was not enough salmon to feed everyone. Almost 3,000 to 4,000 salmon were sometimes caught in one day.


Most shelter was in the form of longhouses. These were commonly made from split plank Western Red Cedar wood and earthen floors. These buildings provided for about forty people, usually just one house (set of families that are usually related). Each building held its own house and was separate from the others, as discussed above in the social organization section.

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(The inside of a longhouse)
For more information, click on this link. More Longhouse Information


Because the tribe is located throughout the San Juan Islands and surrounding islands, their major form of travel and transportation was through the use of canoes made from hollowed out trees. They had multiple types of canoes used in various areas. For example, they had to use an ocean canoe because of the higher sides and stability in the open ocean for larger marine mammal hunts.
external image 352px-Chudups_John_and_others_in_a_canoe_on_Lake_Union%2C_Seattle%2C_ca._1885%2C_2228.jpg
(A canoe on Lake Union, Seattle)

Tools and Weapons

There were many tools that were made from cedar trees. They used the bark of the trees to weave baskets along with grass and dog hair, along with weaving nets for fishing. The Lummi Tribe were the first people to invent reef net fishing. This new found idea allowed the tribe to obtain fish during the time that the salmon were in the reefs. It was very efficient and would sometimes capture 3,000 fish daily.
external image seabear-reef-net-sockeye-salmon-map.jpg
(Reef net diagram)

Most of the tools and weapons made by the Lummi's, were made from natural resources and the riches available to them. Whereas people from many other cultures trade for their resources to create tools.
More Reef Net Information

Economic Activities and Trade

The Lummi Indians were notoriously known for their complex fishing economy. This was a complicated interaction between open access and locations controlled and owned by individuals on behalf of their larger kin group. A great deal of labor was needed for fishing production, so as long as a person representing a family contributed labor and/or supplies, they were entitled to a portion of the fish. The people believed that they only had a right to harvest fish if they respected the salmon and saw it as a gift to the Lummi people.
external image yelm-jim-fish-trap-1885-1.jpg
Picture References and More Pictures (A fish weir on the Puyallup River)

Access to resources spread well across all of the Straits Salish people. Because of the distance, the tribes further north rarely communicated or traded with those farthest south. The Lummi tribe had various interactions that included trade with many of the other surrounding tribes. When Europeans explored the Pacific Northwest searching for fur to trade, they quickly surpassed the Lummi Indians with little interest until a later point because of the lack of fur-bearing animals in the coastal island regions. For a while, they were basically hidden and sheltered from the effects of the Europeans.

Religious Beliefs

Because salmon was such a large part of their lifestyles, the Lummi people believed that the salmon had healing powers if you ate it. There were people who believed that if the salmon were to disappear, they themselves, would no longer be able to sustain themselves and eventually disappear. They believed that nature would sustain them, as long as they kept a mind set to give back what they have taken and more.

There were no creation stories for just this tribe alone. Because the Lummi were a part of the major Salish tribe, they shared a lot of the same beliefs and creation stories. They believed in the interconnectedness and spirit in all things. The creation story is based mainly upon this:
According to the legend, the creator put animal people onto the earth, but there was too much evil. He then sent down Coyote and Fox to free the evils. The two were known for forming the earth's physical features and for providing knowledge to mankind. Coyote leaves a lot of the evils behind, the ones we know today (anger, jealousy, hate, greed, etc). The people believe that when the two come back, those evils will no longer exist and it will be the end of our time, seeing that life and the universe is all just one big circle.
Full Creation Story

Recreation and Games

Because their major transportation was through the use of canoes, the tribe created games that involved canoe races. They had multiple people in a canoe and had to see which group could reach a certain point the fastest. They did this with both types of canoes, so in the open ocean and through rivers.

Works Cited

Boxberger, Daniel, and Christopher Friday. 1999. To Fish in Common: The Ethnohistory of Lummi Indian Salmon Fishing. United States: University of Washington Press.
‘Coast Salish’. 2015. Accessed February 25.
‘Lummi Nation’. 2015. Accessed February 25.
‘The Lummi Indian Nation’. 2015. Accessed February 25.
wpadmin. 2015. ‘Special Insert from the Lummi Nation | Whatcom Watch Online’. Accessed February 24.
2015a. Accessed February 25.
2015b. Accessed February 25. Accessed February 25.