Indian treaties

Memory Trail at Ellensburg Rodeo, led by Aluina George. Washington State Archives' Digital Archives. State Library Photograph Collection, 1851-1990. 1953.


Isaac Stevens' top priority as the first governor of Washington Territory was to establish treaties that would set up a legal framework for European American settlement of lands traditionally occupied by Indian tribes. In a whirlwind of activity, Gov. Stevens toured the territory and established a uniform treaty with every group of native people he could identify. One of the concessions the tribes received was the right to continue to fish in their accustomed fishing places using their customary fishing practices.


Start with secondary sources 

Use secondary sources to gain basic knowledge of your topic, its significance, and historical context.

Ask a Librarian online at Washington State Library to get expert help in locating useful secondary sources. 


Then use primary sources

Use primary sources to deepen your understanding of the topic, and assemble evidence to support your own analysis and interpretation.

Ask an Archivist online at Washington State Archives to get expert help in locating useful primary sources.


Some key historical research questions:

  • How do treaties establish rights and responsibilities between nations or different groups of people?
  • What effects did they have on native economies and cultures?
  • How clearly were the terms and conditions of the treaties explained to native groups?
  • Did Gov. Stevens clearly understand the groups of people he was with?
  • How have Native American treaty rights changed over time?
  • Who was Judge George Boldt, and what role did he play regarding Indian treaties in the 20th century?
  • How have the terms and conditions established in the 1850s Indian treaties affected native people and other communities in the 20th and 21st centuries?
  • What effect have Native American treaties had on European American economy and cultures?
  • Consider other possibilities for historical questions as you analyze and interpret this topic.


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