Table of Contents

Write an introductory paragraph, summarizing your research's findings on this tribe.


Any major events prior to European contact were not recorded due to lack of a written language.

June: Annual stickball games
August: Annual pow wows
1790: Trade and Intercourse Act
1830: Indian Removal Act
1855: Treaty Point Elliot was signed by a subchief and ratified in 1859
1859: Tribe removed to Swinomish Reservation
1880: Settlers began enroaching
1880: Small pox epidemics
1884: The long houses on the Sauk and Skagit rivers were burned by settlers
1884: Indian Homstead Act
1946: Established a separate tribal entity (7 member council)
1973: Federal recognition


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The Sauk-Suiattle tribe lived in the junction of the Sauk and Skagit rivers and on the Sauk Prairie, nearby present day Darrington, Washington.


The Sauk-Suiattle people spoke the language Lushotseed which belongs to the Salishan family of Native American languages. This dialect was spoken by several Salishan groups in the Puget Sound region, including the Duwamish, Steilacoom, Suquamish, Squaxin Island Tribe, Muckleshoot, Nisqually, and Puyallup in the south and the Snohomish, Stillaguamish, Skagit, and Swinomish in the north.

Social Organization and Government

Sauk-Suiattle villages were composed of one or more permanent houses with several families living within. Neighboring groups were linked through intermarriage, ceremonial and customary activities, and use of common territories. The social organization of the Sauk-Suiattle tribe was usually based on wealth and birth status. The Upper Free, Lower Free, and Slaves. The Upper Free gained recognition through individual wealth, high birth, and sponsoring feasts or ceremonies. The Lower Free had less wealth, were of common birth, and were involved in less prestigious ceremonies while the Slaves were simply property. All except slaves or very poor had their heads flattened in infancy. While there were no formal leadership roles, the heads of the wealthiest households typically had the most power.
Although both sexes are expected to seek visions at adolescence, females were subjected to more behavioral restrictions than males, such as isolation at each menstruation period. Upper-class girls sometimes had “coming out’ parties after their first period to announce their marriageability.
Marriage was arranged by the family and commonly to people in other villages. Marriage rituals involved exchanging of gifts. Divorce in the tribe was possible but difficult, especially among the upper-class.
In the present, the official tribe headquarters employ an elected council.


Prior to European contact, most groups made clothing out of cedar bark, buckskin, or animal hair. In warm weather, men wore breechcloths or nothing and women wore cedar bark apron and usually a skirt. In response to colder weather, men and some women wore hide shirts, leggings, and robes made out of bearskin or skins of smaller mammals sewn together. Both wore hide moccasins. Some groups would wear weaved basket or fur caps. Jewelry made from shell, claw, and teeth was common and some women had leg and chin tattoos.

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Picture from Annual Sauk-Suiattle Pow Wow

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An example of the clothing worn after European contact.

Diet and Food Sources

Since the Sauk-Suiattle lived near the coast, they had an abundance of food sources but they relied heavily on fishing for their main staple. They would eat salmon, herring, smelt, flatfish, lingcod, sturgeon, and cutthroat and rainbow trout. They would occasionally hunt sea mammals including seals and whales. The tribe would also hunt on land for animals such as black tailed deer, black bear, elk, and smaller animals. Dogs were commonly used to help in the hunt. Gatherers would find edible plants like roots, bulbs, sprouts, berries, and nuts.


The tribe generally lived in permanent plank houses with shed roofs. Several families would live within one house and each would have their own fireplace, although sharing was sometimes inevitable. Cedar longhouses could be as large as 200 by 50 feet. Wealthy men would sometimes build an extra house specifically for potlatch use. Most villages would have at least one sweathouse. When the tribe would camp in the summer, they would use temporary structures made from mats covering pole frames.

Interior of a Coast Salish Plank House.

Example of a Coast Salish Plank House.


The Sauk-Suiattle people crafted several types of cedar canoes to use for trolling, hunting, moving freight, and warfare. In the event of traveling long distances, for example to and from summer camps, they would create a type of catamaran by lashing boards between two canoes. Those living closer upriver made log rafts for crossing the river or traveling downstream. In the winter, hunters would use snowshoes. Horses were later introduced due to European contact.

Picture of Coast Salish canoe.

Tools and Weapons

Most tools made by the Indians were crafted from bone, stone and wood. Fishing equipment included seines, gill nets, weirs, traps, trawl nets, dip nets, lift nets, gaffs, harpoons, and herring rakes. Hunters would use clubs, harpoons, bow and arrows, pitfalls, snares, nets, and flares (for night hunting). During times of war, weapons including war clubs, daggers, spears, and bows and arrows (possibly poisoned) were used.

Men worked separately on different wares. For example, Men used stone mauls, elk antler, yew wedges, and other tools to make canoes, house planks, utensils, bent-corner boxes, containers, dishes, and spoons. While women worked with shredded cedar leaves, making cordage, mats, blankets, and baskets in various shapes and sizes. They would also weave blankets of mountain goat wool, dog fur, and bird and fireweed down.

Meanwhile, Europe is able to work medal and create tools such as guns and create mechanical power.

Economic Activities and Trade

The tribe would regularly trade among themselves and their immediate neighbors. Most of their canoes were acquired by trading with outer coast peoples and items such as goat hair and hemp fiber came from the east. The people also regularly participate in pow wows and potlatches for ceremonies such as marriage or death rituals.

Presently, fishery industries such as aquaculture, hatcheries, and fishing fleets dominate their activities. There are also some retail establishments such as stores, marinas, and restaurants. Tribes also receive income from trust lands and leases.

Religious Beliefs

The Sauk-Suiattle people shared similar beliefs to their immediate neighbors and other tribes of the Salishan family. They believed everything had a soul, including inanimate objects, and regarded each as species of animal as “people in their own country.” Spirits were believed to be responsible for all luck, skill, and achievements. Vision quests were used to seek helper spirits and consisted of fasting, bathing, and physical deprivation.

Myths and legends were common and told orally. One such myth involves Moon the Transformer who created the first man and woman and changed all of the earth and it’s creatures to be as we know them. (Head to this link for the full story:

The tribe participated in few birth ceremonies but death rituals were the most ritualistic. The body of the deceased would be prepared by professional undertakers and then placed in a canoe or an aboveground grave box. Later a feast is held where the deceased’s property is given away amongst the tribe.

Recreation and Games

Popular games within the tribe include skill and athletic contests, dice games, disk and hand games, and stickball games. Gambling was widely enjoyed.

Traditional stickball games were sometimes major events that could last several days. A large number of men would participate, especially if against another tribe. The games were played in open plains and the goals could range from 500 yards to several miles apart. Rules were generally decided on the day before yet ordinarily there was no out-of-bounds and touching the ball with hands was against regulations. Passing the ball was thought of as a trick, and it was seen as cowardly to dodge an opponent.

Works Cited