Fishing and hunting have been at the core of many American Indian cultures like the Nisqually since precontact. Indian hunting, fishing and gathering were conducted then—as they are now—not for sport, but for food and for a livelihood. This was well understood by the early colonists and later by the U.S. government. Thus, many of the treaties (e.g., Medicine Creek, 1854) negotiated between the federal government and Indian tribes in the nineteenth century contained provisions guaranteeing rights to hunt and fish. In the trea¬ty negotiated by Isaac Stevens, the tribe ceded to the U.S. some of the Nisqually vil¬lages and prairies, but Article Three reserved the tribe’s right to fish “at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations…in common with all citizens of the Territory.” (FL 12) But the growth of the European American population, and with it the proliferation of fenced lands, the destruction of natural habitat, and often the destruction of wildlife itself, drastically curtailed the Indians' ability to carry on these activities. Charles Wilkinson’s thesis declares that the “messages from Frank’s Landing” are “messages about ourselves, about the natural world, about societies past, about this society, and about societies to come.” (FL 6)
Billy affectionately described his homeland (the key component of “peoplehood” i.e., the Nisqually watershed on South Puget Sound of the Nisqually River, creeks (Muck Creek), rolling prairie and forestland as well as the foothills of the Cascades Mountains and Mt Rainier) as “a magical place” where his family “never wished for anything: fish from the water¬shed, vegetables up on the prairie, medicines, shellfish, and huckleberries…clean water, clean air.” He describes the arrival of Lewis and Clark in 1805, followed by settlers mov¬ing in after the treaties were signed with the Washington tribes in 1854-55.
The encroach¬ment upon ancestral lands made it difficult for the Nisqually people like Leschi to understand their new neighbors, especially when natural resources were over-exploited. Fortunately for the Nisqually, Leschi’s rejection of and resistance (which he paid for unjustly with his life) to the original Medicine Creek treaty’s reservation allowed them to retain some of their homeland. “Unlike most tribes confined to small reservations,” Nisqually subsistence remained self-sufficient (“we had everything we needed”) rather than dependent on the federal government. This adequate traditional subsistence resulted in the greater maintenance of tribal sovereignty and cultural autonomy (e.g., ceremonies, songs, dances) by the Nisqually. As a people and a culture they were “in tact.” (Billy Frank interview video)
By the end of the nineteenth century, state governments like Washington had responded to growing numbers of sports hunters and outlawed the sale of almost all game meat, so that hunting was reserved for recreational purposes. Fishing was also reserved for sport—except in...