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NW Indian Multi-Media Virtual Library and Archival System


The inter-connection between Tribal governments and the natural resources and environment of the Pacific Northwest are inseparable. The Pacific Northwest is best known for its beautiful environment and richness in its natural resources. However, this same environment and natural resources are historically intertwined with tribal governments, their cultures, religion, economies, and legal rights. An unfortunate reality regarding tribal governments and their rights to the natural resources is that to understand their history one must turn to the courts. Tribal history and their rights and interests in the natural resources of the Pacific Northwest have been extensively documented in numerous court cases.

These cases are rich and irreplaceable for historical, anthropological, and natural resource management information. For all practical purposes, the information generated from these cases is inaccessible to the tribes, and their citizens, cultural specialists, anthropologists, and historians. In its present scattered form, the information is fragmented and, particularly with respect to the depositions of many tribal elders who have since passed-on, is often the only remaining source for identifying a most-critical element of tribal treaty-rights and of present-day benefit to tribal communities: the historical fishing grounds and stations of the respective tribes.

However, this historic information is virtually inaccessible to the tribes and their communities. Much of this information is spread throughout the twenty western Washington Tribes, numerous attorneys’ offices, the Department of Justice, and federal courts.

The long-term goal is to develop a comprehensive computer library system on Northwest Indian treaty-resources that is integrated with recent historical information (e.g. newspaper articles and other contemporary writing and video). The final product will provide a multi-media virtual library system on Northwest Indian fishing, culture, and history with a unique view of the Pacific Northwest's fisheries natural resources.

Computerization and making available to the tribes and their members timely and easy access to the United States v. Washington case information will promote and support the political, cultural, economic, and social self-sufficiency of our member tribes---Billy Frank, Jr., Chairman, NWIFC

Current Status of the Library

In 1997, the Center for Natural Resource Policy and Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and its member tribes developed a long-range library plan. The first Phase of the overall development of the library system computerized the largest and most complex of the treaty related cases in the Northwest, United States v. Washington. Over 20,000 documents have been computer cataloged and archived from 1970 through December 1995. The second Phase was to digitize over 250,000 pages from the United States v. Washington case. This included all maps, cultural and anthropological reports, and other evidentiary information. Both Phases has been accomplished and are currently being implemented with each of the member Tribes of the NWIFC.

Phase III of the project “converted” all of the 250,000 pages of imaged files into searchable and readable text. This Phase has provided substantial benefits to the existing system.

The importance of the fishery resource to each of the twenty Tribal communities to be served by the project cannot be overstated. For Northwest Tribes, and particularly the member Tribes of the NWIFC, the shellfish and salmon fishery has been their social, religious, economic and cultural basis since time immemorial. Perpetual access and use of the resource was paramount in all of the treaties entered into between each of the Tribal sovereigns and the United States.

While environmental degradations have adversely impacted the fishery over the last half-century, the resource continues today as a mainstay in each Tribes economic, social, religious and cultural lifestyle. At the grassroots community level, Tribal members to earn a living, for religious and ceremonial purposes, and to feed themselves and their families use the fishery. It is an inseparable part of Tribal culture and the daily way of life and is a treaty-right accorded the highest priority.

An important element within this balanced strategy is to improve Tribal abilities to more effectively access information related to their resources for more sustainable management. Such access will significantly enhance Tribal governance capabilities to preserve and make decisions over the control and management of treaty-protected rights that are essential to their social and economic self-sufficiency.

Millions of dollars have been spent to gather and document tribal history and culture. However, without the proposed project, this information is in affect lost to tribal members and their governments. Access to what is generally inaccessible information to tribal members regarding their history and culture is an absolute necessity to support tribal social and economic development strategies---Billy Frank, Jr., Chairman, NWIFC

The primary focus of the collection is Tribal archives, a collection of historical documents on Native American history, culture, and law surrounding natural resource issues of the Pacific Northwest. Because of the significant impact the Tribes have on their surrounding communities; because of the perceived “newness” of a Tribal governments operating within the mix of local county and city governments; because even within the Tribal community people are unaware of their history and culture; it is imperative that the Virtual Library be able to supply accurate information in a timely manner. The Tribes believe that in the long-term the Library should serve as an educational and cross-cultural awareness tool.

Sponsors and Contributors to the Virtual Library

The Library gratefully acknowledges the generosity of the following sponsors and contributors whose support is instrumental to the success of the NW Indian Virtual Library and Archives.

Significant funding has been provided by the Administration for Native Americans. In kind services has been provided by the NW Indian Fisheries Commission and its twenty member tribes: Lummi, Nooksack, Upper Skagit, Swinomish, Sauk-Suiattle, Tulalip, Stillaguamish, Muckleshoot, Nisqually, Squaxin Island, Skokomish, Port Gamble, Jamestown S'Klallam, Elwha, Makah, Quileute, Hoh, Quinault, Suquamish, and Puyallup Tribes. Also, current partners include the Clerk of the Federal Court, University of Washington Special Collections Library, and Tribal attorneys. Each of these groups has assisted or is willing to assist with in-kind services to this project.


The NW Indian Virtual Library and Archives is currently maintained by the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC), However, permission to gain access to the system is determined by each of the 20 western Washington tribal governments party to United States v. Washington. For potential funding entities to review the virtual library, please contact Mr. Michael Messenger at the NWIFC, 360-438-1180 or


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