Tag Archives: Puyallup Indian Reservation

Bill Sterud and The Puyallup Land Claims Settlement

Interview and Project By Miguel Douglas; blog post written by Erika Wigren

“It’s been a long journey. We are kind of like catching our breath and moving forward.” — Bill Sterud, Chairman of the Puyallup Tribal Council.

Bill Sterud, Chairman of Puyallup Tribal Council

Bill Sterud has served on the Puyallup Tribal council for over forty years. During those years, Sterud aided in the 1976 takeover of the Cascadia Juvenile Reception and Diagnostic Center, formerly Tacoma’s Cushman Hospital and most notably, represented the Tribe in negotiations that led to the Puyallup Land Claims Settlement.

The Puyallup Land Claims Settlement of 1990 established much of what comprises the land that the Puyallup Tribe owns today.

Sterud and other tribal members fought for retaining the legal boundaries of their Tribal reservation and surrounding land, water, and various other resource rights. The negotiations however, received mixed reviews from tribal members.

“Some thought that the negotiations shouldn’t take place, that we just go get what we own, and start removing people from our properties that we had won along the riverbed. So the word ‘sellout’ was thrown at the council for negotiating,” Sterud said.   

After years of negotiation, a settlement package of approximately $162 million in land, fisheries, economic and social development, and the construction of the Blair Navigation Project was introduced. At the time, it was the second-largest land claims settlement in U.S. history.

“I’m actually feeling pretty good about the direction, my fingers are crossed, I don’t take anything for granted because I’ve seen it go. They’ve stolen everything from us before. That’s a whole other story on that…So to this day, it’s been a long journey. We are kind of like catching our breath and moving forward.”


Still Fighting After All These Years: A Puyallup Tribal Member’s Perspective

By Rachael Williamson

“I found it exciting…Going to the protests, going to the fish-ins. It was being in a moment that nobody else will ever be in. This movement will never happen again, and I was involved in it. It was very educational” — Nancy Shippentower-Games.

Nancy Shippentower-Games is a member of the Puyallup Tribe in Washington State. Nancy grew up on the banks of the Nisqually River and Puyallup Rivers and currently resides in Yelm, Washington. Nancy’s family were very active during the fishing wars that took place on both the Nisqually and Puyallup Rivers. Her mother Janet McCloud and her uncle, Billy Frank Jr., are widely recognized activists that fought hard for Northwest Indigenous fishing rights during the battle over salmon in the mid-20th century.

Nancy Shippentower-Games

Nancy remembers vividly the violence, racism and injustices that she and her people suffered as they fought against the states of Washington and Oregon for what was rightfully theirs.

By revisiting the circumstances and propositions set forth in the Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854, a better understanding of what the Puyallup and Nisqually tribes have been fighting for comes into focus. While the Boldt Decision of 1974 was a turning point for Northwest Tribes, concerns such as climate change, overpopulation, and proposals such as the LNG plant in Tacoma continue to put the salmon runs and Indigenous culture at risk.

After all these years, Nancy continues to fight the battle for her people. Recently, she traveled to Washington D.C. to accept on behalf of her uncle Billy Frank Jr. the Medal of Freedom, presented by President Obama. Nancy also traveled to Standing Rock, where she represented the Puyallup tribe in the peaceful protests for clean water.



A Right to Live: Ramona Bennett, Puyallup Tribal Indian Activist

Interview and Project By Cecelia La-Pointe Gorman; blog post written by Erika Wigren

 “At one point I was looking at thirty-five years in prison for just standing up and saying the Indians have a right to life…And Indians have a right to live, and we have a right to a reasonable quality of life, and we have a right to a sense of permanence.”  Ramona Bennett.

Ramona Bennett

As a longtime leader for the Puyallup Tribe, Ramona Bennett has always been a force to be reckoned with. From aiding in local fish-ins to the takeover of Tacoma’s Cushman Hospital, Bennett has spent over forty years working on behalf of the Puyallup Tribe and the Pacific Northwest Native American Community.

Bennett began her work in the 1950s in Seattle’s American Indian Women’s Service League. In 1964, she co-founded the Survival of American Indians Association, an organization that helped bring local fish-ins to national prominence.

She also co-founded the Local Indian Child Welfare Act Committee which helped in securing a national Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978. Bennett also opened doors for women activists by actively fighting attempts during the 1970s to exclude her from National Tribal Chairmen’s Conferences.

“At one point I was looking at thirty-five years in prison for just standing up and saying the Indians have a right to life,” Bennett said, “And Indians have a right to live, and we have a right to a reasonable quality of life, and we have a right to a sense of permanence.”

Perhaps the most well-known social justice work of Bennett’s was her role in the takeover of both the Bureau of Indian Affairs Building in Washington, DC in 1972 and the 1976 takeover of Tacoma’s Cushman Hospital.

In a 1976 interview with Clara Faser of the Freedom Socialist newspaper in Seattle, Bennett stated “we’ll not be bought off or bribed to become goodie-goodies…And we’ll keep this land and this building too. It’s all ours, and you fight for what’s yours.”

Bennett and other tribe members took control of Cushman Indian Hospital, also known as the Cascadia Juvenile Reception and Diagnostic Center, which once belonged to the Puyallup Tribe.

Hundreds of Native Americans and their supporters held the hospital for seven days until negotiations finally began with the State, ultimately leading to a victory for the Puyallup Tribe. After a week an official agreement between the tribe, the State and the federal government was made, guaranteeing the return of Cascadia to the trusteeship of the United States for use by the Puyallup Tribe as a medical and social welfare center for its people.

In the 1980s, Bennett served as an administrator for the Wa-He-Lut Indian School in Olympia before going on to co-found Rainbow Youth and Family Services, a Tacoma-based non-profit that she still directs today.