As Native American Heritage Month approaches, it’s an ideal time to celebrate and honor the rich cultural heritage, traditions, and history of Indigenous people in the United States. In this blog, we focus on the Spokane Tribe, whose ancestors inhabited the northeastern region of Washington and played a significant role in the history of the Pacific Northwest. The Spokane Tribe, like many other Indigenous communities, has a story deeply intertwined with resilience, adaptation, and a connection to the land.
Additionally, we are proud to highlight our support for the Wellpinit Boys & Girls Club, a collaborative initiative with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County (BGCSC) and the Spokane Tribe of Indians, dedicated to empowering local tribal youth to reach their full potential.
The Land and the People
The Spokane Tribe, one of the Interior Salish-speaking Tribes, has a long and storied history in the Pacific Northwest. Their ancestral homeland stretched across approximately 3 million acres, encompassing much of northeastern Washington. They also ventured into Idaho and Montana for hunting, fishing, and gathering resources. The Spokane People were river dwellers, living a semi-nomadic lifestyle along the banks of the Spokane and Columbia rivers and their tributaries.
Their primary sustenance came from the bounties of the waterways. Salmon, steelhead, eel, and shellfish comprised a significant portion of their diet, constituting around 60% of their food. This strong connection to the land and the rivers is not just a part of their history but also a central aspect of their identity and culture.
Resilience in the Face of Adversity
The history of the Spokane Tribe is marked by resilience in the face of adversity. In 1858, as U.S. soldiers marched through their ancestral land, there needed to be an established treaty or adequate communication from the Federal Government. In response, the Spokane People defended their families and their country. Their determination and resilience in protecting their land and way of life speak volumes about their commitment to preserving their culture.
The Establishment of the Spokane Reservation
In 1881, President Rutherford B. Hayes formally established the Spokane Reservation, spanning approximately 154,602 acres and known as Chief Lot’s Reservation. This was a significant step in recognizing the Spokane People’s sovereignty and rights to their ancestral land.
Relocation and Adaptation
In 1887, an Agreement was signed between the Upper and Middle Spokanes to relocate to the Coeur d’Alene, Jocko (Flathead), or Colville reservations. Some Spokane tribal members chose to move to the Spokane Reservation, marking a period of change and adaptation as they navigated the relocation challenges.
Recognition and Self-Governance
In 1951, a pivotal moment occurred in the Spokane Tribe’s history when it officially became one of the 574 recognized tribal governments within the United States. This recognition came after the passage of their formal Constitution, which continues to govern their operations today. The Spokane Tribe’s journey toward self-governance is an inspiring example of the strength of their community and their determination to shape their destiny.
The Spokane Tribe Today
Today, the Spokane Tribe continues to preserve its heritage and culture. Their primary government operations are in Wellpinit, Washington, with a citizen population of approximately 2,900 enrolled members. The Tribe remains a vital part of the cultural fabric of the Pacific Northwest, contributing to the region’s diversity and enriching the collective heritage of the United States.
Supporting Wellpinit Boys & Girls Club
In celebrating Native American Heritage Month and honoring the Spokane Tribe, it’s important to recognize the present-day efforts to support the tribal youth in the region. Through a collaborative partnership between the Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County (BGCSC) and the Spokane Tribe, local youth celebrated the long-awaited grand opening of the Wellpinit Boys & Girls Club on October 6, 2016. The Club, located in the Spokane Tribe’s youth center, has over 150 tribal youth enrolled.
The Wellpinit Boys & Girls Club, as part of the Boys & Girls Clubs’ mission, aims to enable all youth, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, responsible, and caring citizens. They achieve this by implementing programs in three core areas: Healthy Lifestyles, Academic Success, and Good Character and Citizenship.
In 2023, Believe in Me awarded them $10,000 to further support their important mission. 100% of youth at the Wellpinit Club are Native American. They face unique challenges such as poor nutrition, a sedentary lifestyle, mental health issues, and substance abuse, all of which severely impede their emotional, social, and academic growth. Kids aged 6-17 are eligible for service, and the enrollment fee is just $30, waived for all Wellpinit youth who need it. Membership only requires the completion of enrollment documents by a caregiver. This vital support ensures that the Wellpinit Boys & Girls Club can continue to make a positive impact on the lives of tribal youth in the community.
Celebrating the Spokane Tribe’s Rich Heritage and Supporting Their Future
As we celebrate Native American Heritage Month, let’s remember and honor the history, culture, and contributions of the Spokane Tribe. Their journey is a testament to the enduring strength of Indigenous communities across the United States. By recognizing and celebrating their heritage and supporting initiatives like the Wellpinit Boys & Girls Club, we can contribute to the preservation and promotion of their rich culture for generations to come.