Samish Culture

History of The Samish Indian Nation


The Samish Indian Nation is the successor to the large and powerful Samish Nation, a signatory to the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855. The Tribes traditional territory stretches over a wide seven-county region of Northwest Washington. This area, which ranges from the mountain tops of the Cascades westerly along the hills, woodlands, and river deltas, arriving at the far western shores of the San Juan Islands, which provides a backdrop for our history and cultural traditions that remain strong today.

The Maiden of Deception PassOur history instructs us as to proper relationship to the land and its resources by teaching us the lessons left for us by our ancestors about both the natural and spiritual worlds and how those worlds cannot be separated. This teaching help guide our tribal members in their daily lives and offers a unique and irreplaceable system of beliefs, which takes us through the transitions of life from birth to death and beyond.

Samish people were respected for their spiritual strength as well as their skillful carving of canoes and construction of longhouses. One of those longhouses on the eastern end of Samish Island measured some 1,250 feet in length. In 1847 the Tribe had over 2,000 members and because of the raids from Northern Tribes and epidemics of measles, small pox, and the ague (flu), the population of the tribe was decreased to approximately 150 at the time of the signing of the Point Elliott Treaty. History also tells us that 113 Samish were present at the Treaty grounds at the time of signing in 1855.

As part of a larger Coast Salish cultural complex the Samish formed a village community, which consisted of several important social groupings. These groupings can be listed as 4 units: the family, the house group, the villages, and the tribe as a whole. Samish tribal members married outside of their groupings, so as to create a network of “kinships.” These kinships regulated both the internal and external relationships between the families, the house groups, the villages, and the tribe as a whole. The Tribe relied on these relationships during bad times in order to be able to access areas of food and shelter that was not currently in their home territory. Linguistically and culturally, the Tribe is grouped as Coast Salish, speaking a dialect of Coast Salish known as “Straits Salish,” rather than Lushsootseed dialect as some of our immediate neighbors to the east.


The Carving of the Maiden Of Deception Pass