Framing Chief Leschi: Narratives and the Politics of Historical Justice

Framing Chief Leschi: Narratives and the Politics of Historical Justice

Framing Chief Leschi: Narratives and the Politics of Historical Justice

Framing Chief Leschi: Narratives and the Politics of Historical Justice

Excerpt

On a gray and rainy Christmas day in 1854, U.S. officials received several Native headmen and hundreds of Indian spectators at the treaty council grounds on the bank of She-Nah-Nam Creek, known to the Americans as Medicine Creek. The council brought together settlers, territorial officials, and Nisqually, Puyallup, Squaxin Island, and other Native peoples to clarify access to the watershed’;s abundant resources. The Indian headmen, dressed in their finest ceremonial regalia, hoped to establish good partnerships with the Americans and finally receive compensation for the land, materials, and services taken from them. The U.S. treaty party came to the council with a different agenda. Isaac I. Stevens, the newly appointed Washington territorial governor and Indian superintendent, initiated the treaty negotiations in order to extinguish Indian land title and secure homesteaders’; claims.

The council at Medicine Creek was to be the first in a lengthy Northwest treaty tour for Stevens. To expedite his mission, Stevens called on local settlers to identify Indian chiefs and sub-chiefs for the purpose of signing his pre-drawn treaty. Quiemuth was recognized as chief of the Nisquallies; his younger brother, Leschi, was recognized as sub-chief. The negotiations at Medicine Creek were frustrating for the headmen. Stevens did not take the time to understand the needs of the Native communities nor to respond to Indians’; concerns about his treaty terms. Leschi and others objected to the proposed Nisqually reservation because it was small and the land was poor and rocky. Even worse, the reserve excluded the best pastureland and river fishing sites in the Nisqually watershed. Despite headmen’;s protests over the reservation, Stevens collected the requisite signatures the next day and sent the document to Congress for approval. The most significant outcomes of the treaty were the immense land transfer and the political relationship established between the United States and numerous Indian nations: Indians in the southern Puget Sound ceded . . .

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