Tribes mourn loss of tradition keeper

Local American Indians mourned the loss of a longtime keeper of traditions Thursday in a funeral held on the Tulalip Indian Reservation.

Charles Sneatlum died Sunday, near his home around the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation, at the age of 76. Friends and family members said he was a descendent of Chief Seattle, a Suquamish leader.

Sneatlum is remembered for his roles in the revival of Lushootseed, the ancient Coast Salish language, and in the Boldt decision, which helped win fishing rights for Indian tribes.

“He knew it all, all the old things,” said Ray Moses, who grew up on the Tulalip Indian Reservation with Sneatlum.

“He was an easy-going person, but he also was always about Indian tradition,” Tulalip Tribes boardmember Stan Jones said. “When we were losing our old culture, he kept it. He was involved with the longhouse traditions.”

Sneatlum was born at home on the reservation in 1931. He lived there until his senior year of high school, when he joined the Army and was sent to fight in Korea, Moses said.

“We joined the Army together,” Moses said. “He heard I was going to join, so he rode his bike all the way from Conway to join with me.”

The two young men stood in line with other friends from Tulalip and signed on for a tour of duty, Moses said. They had hoped to be stationed together, but they were separated and didn’t see each other for three years.

Sneatlum wasn’t injured in the war, but the things he saw scarred him for life, Moses said.

“He changed. We all changed,” Moses said.

When Sneatlum returned to the United States, he met and married a woman from the Muckleshoot tribe and lived on that reservation for the rest of his life, where he taught the tribe’s younger members pieces of Indian history.

Sneatlum will be buried near the Muckleshoot reservation, Moses said.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or

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