Nooksack Indian Tribe


Last Updated: 4 years

The Nooksack Indian Tribe is a federally recognized Salish tribe near the Northwest Coast in northern Washington State located about 15 miles from the Canadian border. Their oral history says they have resided there since time immemorial. 

Official Tribal Name: Nooksack Indian Tribe

Address:   5016 Deming Road, P.O. Box 157, Deming, WA, 98244
Phone:  (360) 592-5176
Fax:  (360) 592-2125

Official Website:

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:

Nooksack comes from a place name in the Lhéchalosem language and translates to “always bracken fern roots.”

Common Name / Meaning of Common Name: Same as traditional name. 

Alternate names / Alternate spellings / Misspellings: Formerly known as Nooksack Indian Tribe of Washington

Name in other languages:

Region: Northwest Coast 

State(s) Today: Washington 

Traditional Territory:

The Nooksack people occupied the watershed of the Nooksack River from the high mountain area surrounding Mt. Baker to the salt water at Bellingham Bay, and extended into Canada north of Lynden and in the Sumas area.

Nooksack territory extended into Skagit County on the south, into British Columbia on the north, and from Georgia Strait on the west to the area around Mt. Baker on the east. The territory included a primary Nooksack area, not open to free use by members of other groups, and joint-use areas, which were shared with neighboring groups.

The primary Nooksack area was the Nooksack River watershed from near its mouth to its headwaters surrounding Mt. Baker, plus most of the Sumas River drainage south of the present international boundary.

Confederacy: Salish 


The Nooksack were one of many Indian groups which were party to the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855, in which title to the land of much of western Washington was exchanged for recognition of fishing, hunting and gathering rights, and a guarantee of certain government services. 

Reservation: Nooksack Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land

The Nooksack were not granted a reservation. They were expected to move to the Lummi Reservation, but few did. In 1873 and 1874 attempts were made to move the Nooksacks to the reservation, but it became clear that they would not move without military force and it was recommended that the Nooksack Indians be allowed to remain in the Nooksack Valley.

Following this, Nooksacks were able to gain legal title to small portions of their traditional lands, including many of the village sites, by filing homestead claims on them. In 1874 only the lower, downriver Lynden and Everson areas had been surveyed, and seven homestead claim applications were made at this time.

These included the claims of James Seclamatan (Lynden Jim, Selhámetan), surrounding Sqwehálich and of George Olooseus (Welósiws) surrounding Kwánech village. These first homesteads received five-year restricted patents under provisions of an Act of Congress passed on March 3, 1875.

None of these lands are in Indian ownership today with the exception of the two tribal cemeteries on Northwood Road.

As upriver areas were surveyed, 30 additional homestead claims were filed, with 29 trust titles eventually granted to 3,847 acres under provisions of the Indian Homestead Act of 1884.

These trust homesteads included many village sites, such as Xelxál7altxw on the John Suchanon (Long Johnny) homestead, Spálhxen on the Johnson homestead, Yexsáy on the Sampson Santla homestead, and Nuxw7íyem on the Charley Adass homestead. These lands have since been administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

In 1970, the Tribe gained title to four buildings on an acre of land, which became the Nooksack Reservation and is the location of the present Tribal Center.

Land Area:  2,400 acres
Tribal Headquarters:  Deming, WA
Time Zone:  Pacific

Population at Contact:

The Nooksack population 250 years ago was probably about 1,200 to 1,500.

Registered Population Today:

Today, there are about  2,000 members of this tribe.

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

Unlike most indian tribes, the Nooksack Tribe Enrollment Office will provide minimal assistance in your genealogy research to prove eligibility for enrollment, in that they will give access to some old family trees and probate information, information regarding Tribal land status reports, and Tribal identifications they have on file. However, they will not search for you beyond the records they have on hand. It is ultimately your responsibility to compile the proof needed to establish your Nooksack ancestry.

The Nooksack Enrollment Office can be reached at (360) 592-5176 ext.1010 and ext. 1003, or by fax at (360) 592-5721.

Genealogy Resources:


Since the Nooksack were not granted a separate reservation, they were no longer recognized as a Tribe by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, yet they continued to function as a Tribe.

In 1926, they met under the leadership of George Swanaset to join in the Dwamish, et al. v. The United States case before the Court of Claims; in 1935 the Nooksack Tribe voted to accept the Indian Reorganization Act, but the Tribe was not permitted to organize under the act since it was not a recognized Tribe.

In the 1950s the Tribe, under the leadership of Joe Louie, pursued a land claim case with the Indian Claims Commission (ICC). The ICC decided in 1955 that the Nooksack were indeed a Tribe of Indians whose lands had been taken without compensation, but that they only “exclusively occupied and used” a small portion of their traditional territory (Indian Claims Commission, Docket No. 46). It was further decided that the value of the lands at the time of the treaty was $0.65 per acre and only this amount would be paid.

A payment of $43,383 for 80,000 acres of the 400,000 acres claimed was provided by Congress in 1965. The 400,000 acre claim includes a large majority of the places named in the Nooksack language that are south of the U.S.-Canada boundary. The land claim money was distributed in equal portions on a per capita basis to each recognized descendant of the Nooksack Tribe of 1855.

In the 1960s, the Tribe had a Community Action Program and launched an effort to gain federal recognition. In 1970, the Tribe gained title to four buildings on an acre of land, which became the Nooksack Reservation and is the location of the present Tribal Center in Deming.

In 1973, full Federal recognition was granted.

 See above.
Name of Governing Body:  Nooksack Tribal Council
Number of Council members:   4 council members, plus executive officers
Dates of Constitutional amendments: 
Number of Executive Officers:  Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Treasurer, Secretary


Council members are elected by all tribal members over the age of 18.

Language Classification:

Salishian -> Coast Salish -> Central Coast Salish -> Nooksack

Language Dialects:


Number of fluent Speakers:

There was only one fluent speaker of Lhéchalosem left, as of 2010.


Nooksack Place Names: Geography, Culture, and Language
Salish Languages and Linguistics (Erganzungsbande Zum Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumsku)  


Nooksack Indian history goes back thousands of years. According to Native tradition, the people have been here from time immemorial—basically since the beginning of human existence on this land. There is nothing in Nooksack tradition of ever living anywhere else. Studies in linguistics and archaeology indicate a stable population of speakers of Salish languages, with no migration into the Georgia Straits/Puget Sound region, for the past several thousand years. 

Bands, Gens, and Clans

Related Tribes:

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The Nooksack lived in cedar plank longhouses shared by multiple related families in the winter months. Research has identified 25 traditional winter village sites, although no more than maybe 15 of these were occupied at any one time, even before the severe population decline of the historic period caused by the new diseases. Most of these villages were in four clusters along the Nooksack River between modern day Lynden and the mouth of the South Fork above Deming. 


The people used a broad area for hunting, fishing, gathering of foods, and traveling to visit other groups. There was separate kin group (family) ownership of root digging plots at Nuxwsá7aq, the place which gave its name to the river and the people. Other, non-Nooksack people could use the resources in the Nooksack area if they shared descent from Nooksack ancestors or if they were tied to living Nooksack families by marriage.

Joint-use areas occurred at the edges of Nooksack territory, including the upper North Fork shared with the Chilliwack, the upper South Fork also used by Skagit River people, and Lake Whatcom with a mixed Nooksack and Nuwhaha village.

All of the salt water areas used by the Nooksack were also used by other groups: Chuckanut Bay, Samish Bay and Bellingham Bay were shared with the Nuwhaha, Samish and Lummi; Cherry Point, Birch Bay, Semiahmoo Bay and surrounding areas were shared with the Lummi and Semiahmoo. 

On the basis of shared descent or marriage ties, most Nooksacks could traditionally have fished on the Fraser, Skagit and Samish Rivers. Similarly, the resources of Birch Bay and Semiahmoo Bay would have been accessed through these kin ties before these areas were abandoned by their native people in the early to mid 19th century.

After homesteading, and well into the 20th century, the Nooksack continued to depend heavily for food on fishing, hunting and gathering at traditional places named in the Lhéchelesem language.

Economy Today:

In 1974, the Nooksack Tribe joined the United States v. Washington case as a treaty tribe with fishing rights for enrolled Members.

As a result, a major focus of Nooksack Tribal programs today is land and resources with a special emphasis on fishing. Fishing in the Nooksack River and salt water areas is an important source of income and food for many families, as well as being a source of cultural pride and identity.

The Tribal fisheries program regulates fishing and works to enhance fish runs and protect the environment, which the fish depend on. The Tribe works closely with local, State, and Federal agencies to review proposed developments, timber harvests and other environmental disturbances, and evaluate their impact on water quality, fisheries, and cultural sites. 

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Nooksack Chiefs and Leaders:

Catastrophic Events:

Tribe History:

In the News:

Further Reading:

Beaver Steals Fire: A Salish Coyote Story
Salish Myths and Legends: One People’s Stories
Katie Gale: A Coast Salish Woman’s Life on Oyster Bay