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Puyallup Tribe needs help filling in blanks

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Puyallup tribal researchers are looking for tribal members who experienced the Puyallup Reservation’s Cushman Boarding School and who want to tell their story in order to help the Puyallup Tribe record the local history.

The Puyallup Tribe of Indians Historic Preservation Department is seeking information to help fill in some of the blanks in parts of the Puyallup Tribe’s history. The department is actively searching for people from throughout the Northwest area who are in some way connected to the Cushman Indian Hospital and any of the Indian boarding schools near the Puyallup Reservation in the early to mid-20th century.

The Puyallup Tribe is seeking people from other tribes who may have any connection with the hospital or the schools located on the Puyallup Reservation. Many Natives from Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana and Alaska were brought to these schools and hospitals.

“There are hundreds of stories out there,” said Amber Santiago, research assistant for the Puyallup Tribal Historic Preservation Office. “This is a big part that we have missing in our history, because most of those people have passed away. We’re looking for anyone, maybe not the person who attended, but a grandchild who remembers hearing the stories of their grandparents. We want to piece together the history.”

Santiago’s grandmother was taken from Montana’s Flathead Reservation in 1938 when she was 8 years old and brought to the Cushman Hospital, forcing her family to relocate to the Tacoma area. “The people who went to the hospital from the 1920s to the 1960s were from all over the state and from surrounding states, that’s why this area has one of the highest Native American populations in the area. My grandma’s story is not the only story – there are so many people with similar stories.”

Because so many former boarding school students and hospital attendees have passed away, and many did not like to talk about their experiences while they were alive, that era is spotty in the tribe’s documentation and research. Santiago said much of the information they do have is from the administrators at the schools and the hospital, which gives a biased look at the facilities’ conditions.

“It’s a big missing link to know what was going on in the schools and hospital and the experiences that they went through. We just have the white people’s perspective.”

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In the past couple of months the Historic Preservation Office has received calls and e-mails from former students, patients, employees and local city residences that had experiences at Cushman Indian Boarding School and Cushman Hospital. These accounts of tribal members across the Northwestern states are priceless memories that will be useful to the Historic Preservation Department in creating a better understanding of that period in the tribe’s history. All who were interviewed feel a sense of relief in telling their stories of Cushman and believe that this is a very important piece of Northwest Native history.

The Puyallup Tribe’s Historic Preservation Department will continue its search for anyone who attended, worked at, was associated with, or who may have stories they would like to share regarding: Cushman Indian School located on the Puyallup Tribal Reservation in Tacoma, Wash. from the 1860s – 1920s and Cushman Indian Hospital located on the Puyallup Tribal Reservation in Tacoma, Wash. from the 1920s – 1960s.

Outreach to Alaska

The Historic Preservation Department recently contacted Victoria Barber from the Arctic Sounder newspaper in Alaska. Barber took an extreme interest in the Cushman project and released an article Dec. 14 about the efforts put forth by the Historic Preservation Department in searching for Alaskan Natives who were taken to the Puyallup Reservation.

Barber’s article spread instantly across Alaska and the rest of the country to other newspapers, tribal newsletters and radio stations.

In response to Barber’s article, the Puyallup Tribe has heard from several Alaskan tribal members who remember attending Cushman or had loved ones who were there. There have been several success stories from the outreach to Alaskan Natives. Several families have found death certificates and burial locations of their family members which has given them much awaited closure to the unknown journey their loved ones took to the Puyallup Reservation.

The Historic Preservation Department plans to take a trip to Alaska this year in hopes to find more survivors of Cushman Boarding School and Hospital and to preserve this important piece of history.

For more information or for a copy of the list of death certificates from Cushman Indian Hospital dated 1929 – 1959, contact Amber Santiago, Puyallup Tribe of Indians – Historic Preservation Department at (253) 573-7965 or