Chehalis Nation

chehalis indian tribe pacific northwest

The Chehalis Indian Nation is an ancient and vibrant Native American tribe located in the state of Washington. This proud nation has a storied and complex history that dates back more than 10,000 years.

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the history of the Chehalis Indian Nation and explore the amazing culture and traditions that have been passed down through generations. We’ll also discuss the challenges the tribe has faced in recent years, such as the loss of their ancestral lands and the lack of recognition from the US government.

To give you an idea of the scope of the Chehalis Indian Nation’s history, it’s estimated that more than 200 distinct tribes have been part of the Chehalis Nation over the past 10,000 years!

A Confederacy of Many Tribes

The Chehalis Indian Nation is a coastal Salish people who have called the Chehalis River Basin in Western Washington State home since time immemorial. This proud and resilient tribe has been shaped by their connection to the land, and the community has been sustained throughout the years by the strength of their collective spirit.

Understanding the history of the Chehalis Indian Nation is key to understanding the deep-rooted connections they share with the land. Traditionally, the Chehalis Nation hunted and gathered in the resource-rich Pacific Northwest (PNW).

emblem of the chehalis tribe

These activities, combined with their deep spiritual connection to their homeland, have helped to shape the culture, values, and identities of the Chehalis people to this day. Moving on, let’s take a closer look at the traditional lifestyle of the Chehalis Nation.

The Chehalis Nation and the Land of the PNW

Traditionally, the Chehalis Nation lived in cedar longhouses with the whole family, hunted and fished for sustenance, and harvested the rich resources of the land. This lifestyle was deeply rooted in the culture, and it provided them with the necessary tools to thrive in their environment.

The Chehalis Nation lived in harmony with the land, their relationships with the environment were deep and interdependent. They cherished the land, and were sustained by its natural bounty.

From the salmon in the river to the cedar trees in the forest, the Chehalis Nation relied on the resources around them for their survival.

By living in harmony with the land, the Chehalis Nation were able to share in its abundance and build strong tribal bonds. As a result, their culture was tightly connected to their environment, and their traditions reflected this deep connection.

From the comfortable longhouses, to the plentiful fishing, to the plentiful harvesting of resources, the Chehalis Nation had a deep understanding of the importance of sustainability and the importance of living in balance with the environment. As a result, they were able to thrive in the land they had called home since time immemorial.

Without a doubt, the Chehalis Nation had a strong connection to the environment and the resources around them. However, in 1855, they faced a pivotal moment that would have a lasting impact on their history. That moment was the signing of the Treaty of Point Elliott.

The Treaty Of Point Elliott

In 1855, the Chehalis Nation signed the Treaty of Point Elliott, which was the first treaty between the United States and a Native American tribe in the Puget Sound region. This event marked a significant milestone in the history of the Chehalis people, and it would forever shape the future of the tribe.

Here are a few key points of the Treaty of Point Elliott:

  • The treaty recognized the Chehalis Nation as a sovereign nation and guaranteed them certain rights and privileges.
  • The Chehalis Nation agreed to cede large tracts of land to the United States government in exchange for a payment of goods and services.
  • The Chehalis Nation retained the right to hunt, fish, and gather on the ceded land, as long as they did not interfere with non-native settlers.
  • The United States government agreed to protect the Chehalis Nation from hostile tribes and any other threats.

The signing of the Treaty of Point Elliott allowed the Chehalis Nation to maintain their autonomy and their way of life. While the treaty certainly brought about some significant changes, it also offered the Chehalis people the chance to continue living on their ancestral lands.

Without taking a step back in time, in 1873 the Chehalis Tribe was forced to move to a reservation near Gray’s Harbor, Washington. This marked the beginning of a new chapter in the tribe’s history, one that would be characterized by a struggle for survival and a fight to preserve their cultural heritage.

The Chehalis Tribe Was Forced To Move To A Reservation

In 1873, the Chehalis Nation was forced to make a difficult decision; they were forced to move from their ancestral homes and on to a reservation near Gray’s Harbor, Washington. It was like a prison sentence for the tribe, as the government had taken away their land and freedom. The Chehalis tribe was devastated, feeling as if the rug had been pulled out from beneath them.

Despite the difficulties of the situation, the Chehalis people adapted to the new environment. They used their knowledge and skills to create a new life on the reservation, and they kept their culture alive by passing down their traditions and stories to the next generation.

Yet, their story was far from over. In 1928, their struggles reached a new level, as the government terminated the Chehalis Tribe, taking away their federal recognition and most of their tribal land. This was yet another heartbreaking blow to the tribe, leaving them feeling lost and forgotten.

The Government Terminates Federal Recognition And Most Of Their Tribal Land

By 1928, the Chehalis Tribe had all but been decimated. In a move that felt like a harsh slap in the face of the nation, the government terminated the Chehalis Tribe, taking away their federal recognition and most of their tribal land.

It was as if the rug had been pulled out from underneath the Chehalis people, leaving them stranded and confused. It was a dark time for the tribe, and it felt like their identity had been stripped away.

But, the Chehalis people never stopped fighting for their rights. While the government had taken away their recognition, the Chehalis people fought tirelessly to be re-acknowledged and to have their land returned to them.

Through their resilience and determination, they eventually achieved their goal. In 1975, the Chehalis Tribe was officially re-recognized by the federal government and the Chehalis Restoration Act was passed. This was an incredible victory for the Chehalis people, and it meant that they could once again have their voice heard and their land respected.

Tribe Was Officially Re-Recognized By The Federal Government | Chehalis Restoration Act Passed

It took nearly five decades of hard work and dedication, but in 1975, the Chehalis Tribe was officially re-recognized by the federal government and the Chehalis Restoration Act was passed. This marked a momentous occasion for the Chehalis Tribe and their long quest for justice and recognition.

A leap forward in the right direction, this new act gave the Chehalis Tribe legal rights to their land, as well as the right to form their own tribal government. With the signing of this act, the Chehalis Tribe was finally given the chance to rebuild and reclaim their independence, culture, and pride.

Going forward, the Chehalis Indian Nation is actively involved in preserving their culture and language, as well as advocating for their tribal rights. With the help of the Chehalis Restoration Act, the Chehalis Tribe is now able to promote their culture and language through educational initiatives, language revitalization efforts, and cultural events. The future of the Chehalis Indian Nation is bright, and the tribe is determined to make their voices heard to ensure that the Chehalis people continue to thrive for generations to come.

Preserving Chehalis Culture And Language

Since their re-recognition in 1975, the Chehalis Indian Nation has been actively working to preserve their culture and language. As one of the oldest tribes in North America, the Chehalis have a powerful and ancient connection to the land that they inhabit. To honor and protect this connection, they have dedicated themselves to keeping their traditional language alive.

The Chehalis Indians have made it their mission to teach their language to future generations. They have organized classes, workshops, and seminars to promote the preservation of the Chehalis language. Additionally, they have established programs for elders to mentor younger generations in their culture and language.

The Chehalis Indian Nation is also passionate about preserving their traditional arts and crafts. From weaving baskets to carving canoes, the Chehalis are passionate about sharing their knowledge and skills with their descendants. To protect and honor their cultural heritage, the tribe has created a museum and cultural center that serves to educate and inspire visiting tribal members.

The Chehalis Indian Nation is working hard to ensure that their culture and language are not lost to future generations. With their commitment to education and preservation, they have made great strides in keeping their heritage alive. They are an example of how a strong community can come together to ensure that their history and traditions are respected and preserved.


The Chehalis Indian Nation has a deep and rich history that dates back many thousands of years. From the early inhabitants of the area, to the modern-day Chehalis Tribe, the legacy of the Chehalis people has been an integral part of the Pacific Northwest.

The Chehalis people have faced many challenges throughout their history, but have persevered and maintained a strong cultural identity. Today, the Chehalis Tribe is a vibrant and thriving community that is committed to preserving their culture and traditions.

The history of the Chehalis Indian Nation is one of resilience and strength. It is a testament to the power of community and the importance of honoring and respecting one’s cultural heritage. As the Chehalis people continue to move forward, they will no doubt preserve their rich history and culture for future generations to come.