Native peoples have lived on land for thousands of years that is now under the jurisdiction of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The oldest scientific evidence on JBLM documents their occupation to over 8000 years ago. Tribal villages dotted the prairies, rivers and streams, with summer dwellings located in more timbered areas. The current Nisqually Indian Tribe, the Puyallup Indian Tribe and the Squaxin Island Tribe are descendants of these early Native Americans. Intermarriage created social connections with tribes northward along the Pacific Coast and over the mountains to the Yakama Nation.
Native peoples in the South Puget Sound focused on saltwater, riverine, and inland natural resources for subsistence. Tribes relied on salmon as the staple resource. Fishing stations were established along the rivers and streams to capture migrating salmon species. Plant resources, were the focus of seasonal collecting, provided a balance in the food supply, and consisted of roots, bulbs, berries, nuts and greens. Hunting big game and birds complemented fish and plant resources. With the arrival of Euro Americans, tribal life began to change radically when the tribes were placed on reservations in the 1850s, and continued upheaval occurred during the allotment era in the late 19th century.
A total of 3,300 acres of tribal allotments within the Nisqually Reservation are located within the current boundaries of JBLM. Through all this change, traditional lifestyles incorporated new resources while maintaining a connection to the land and its resources. To this day, tribes access JBLM throughout the year to harvest various natural resources, such as camas and cedar.
JBLM has a trust responsibility to ensure that Treaty Rights are adhered to so tribes can continue cultural traditions. Access to sacred sites, tribal homesteads and allotments is critical for the tribes. The JBLM Cultural Resources program coordinates access between the tribes and the installation. This includes access to an area normally off limits due to military training, for tribal harvesting activities, tribal allotments, homesteads and farms. Consultation with tribes is a crucial part of federal trust responsibilities and installation leadership meets with Tribal leaders on critical issues. Tribes continue to be connected to the landscape of JBLM. Consultation occurs on projects that may impact important traditional resources and tribal lives.