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Nisqually revisit land ancestors once walked

Leschi-Quiemuth Honor Walk takes participants across training areas

Published: 03:21PM May 10th, 2012
Nisqually revisit land ancestors once walked

Scott Hansen/Northwest Guardian

Leschi Walk participants make the annual 7.2-mile trek across JBLM Lewis Main.

When Don Whal was stationed at Fort Lewis 30 years ago, he and his buddies would frequently come out to the training areas outside the cantonment area. They’d admire the prairies, creeks and awesome views of Mount Rainier and never knew what they were missing.

“We’d cross over the lands and admire the beauty of it, but we never realized the heritage that was here,” he said.

Whal, who is researching a documentary, recently returned to what is now Joint Base Lewis-McChord for the fifth annual Leschi-Quiemuth Honor Walk/Run, sponsored by the Nisqually Indian Tribe. Every year tribal members are permitted to return to the lands they once lived on, and share their history with new generations.

“It hits home that they’re still here,” JBLM Cultural Resources employee Dale Sadler said. “They obviously have an active presence on this part of their reservation.”

The event, which was named after Leschi, an important Nisqually tribal leader from the 1800s, and his brother, Quiemuth, allows participants to walk, run or take a bus tour along several routes that were once part of the Nisqually Reservation.

Once, the Nisquallies had villages along waterways stretching from the base of Mount Rainier to Puget Sound. In 1856, following the Treaty of Medicine Creek and the war that lead to Leschi’s execution, the tribe had 4,717 hard-won acres on both sides of the Nisqually River. They lived there for 61 years, until 3,353 acres of the land were condemned and its residents were forced to move. It became part of Fort Lewis, which was established the same year in 1917.

Tribal members retain hunting and fishing rights to the area and are allowed to return for ceremonial purposes, but it wasn’t until 2008 that the walk brought them back to other areas of JBLM. Before that, the event routed through significant areas that are now parts of nearby cities.

A 7.2 mile walk and separate bus tour and 2.5 mile walk brought participants through the lands where Leschi and Quiemuth once had homes and pastured their horses, past tribal cemeteries and around the allotments of land where their ancestors lived.

This year, over 140 people representing at least four different tribes participated in the event.

“Until four years ago, no one had been back here,” Nisqually tribal member Jackie Wall said.

Wall has done the walk every year. He mother was born on the Frank Allotment, one of the stops along the event’s longer walk. She said that seeing it each year is a bittersweet homecoming.

Tribal elder Joyce McCloud knows the feeling.

“The first time I came on the walk it was really sad,” she said, while looking at her great, great, great grandfather’s allotment from across Nisqually Lake.

He made his living ferrying settlers across the water, but after being evicted in 1917 he never saw the place again. Now, though, Joyce is glad that she can see the land the way it was — open and undeveloped — if only once a year.

“It felt good to see all that Camus,” McCloud said of the periwinkle blue flowers that bloom across the prairies, and can be boiled down into a sweet flavoring for salmon.

For Maislee Altaha, a Puyallup tribal member, the jog is a healing experience. As she ran through the woods and prairies, she had a lot of time to clear her mind.

“Gosh you think about everything,” she said. “How can you better yourself in this life? How can you improve?”

She spent a lot of time thinking of her family, especially her grandkids and her father, who died only a few months before the event two years ago. She remembered running and thinking of the people that had guided her as she grew into the person she is today.

She also thinks of her ancestors, who set examples so long ago.

“If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here,” she said.