JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash.—The Nisqually Indian Tribe hosted their 16th annual Chief Leschi Honor Walk on May 6, where members of the tribe along with local members of the military and surrounding communities walked 7.2 miles through the tribe’s ancestral homeland, which has been attached to what is now Joint Base Lewis-McChord since 1917.
“This is a walk to honor and commemorate our ancestors that lived on this land and honor the things that Chief Leschi and his brother Quiemuth did for our people,” said Joyce McCloud, a tribal elder and director of the cultural program for the Nisqually Indian Tribe organization.
Army Col. Phil Lamb, Joint Base Commander of JBLM, offered opening remarks and participated in the walk with his family.
Lamb went on to formally recognize in his remarks to the crowd that the base resides on Nisqually land.
“We acknowledge that Joint Base Lewis-McChord resides on the traditional lands of the Nisqually people,” Lamb said. “The Nisqually have lived and cared for this land and these waterways since time immemorial. We make this acknowledgment to open a space of recognition, inclusion and respect for our sovereign tribal partners and all indigenous students, families and staff in our community.”
The walk is named after Chief Leschi and his brother Quiemuth, Nisqually leaders who, in the 1850s, were instrumental in the tribe’s struggle against the territorial government that displaced them from the lands they had occupied for thousands of years.
“Every year it’s a different feeling for me,” said Hweqwidi Hanford McCloud, coordinator for the Honor Walk and governmental liaison for the tribe. “It’s a space that we want to be a part of that we never got to be a part of. So being able to come here and walk on this land, to me it gives a certain energy and a feeling of ‘this is who we are and where we come from.’”
Mr. McCloud, who also teaches classes about Nisqually heritage and history to children of the tribe, said it is meaningful for the children to attend the event to see and walk on the land they hear about in the classroom.
“We’re here, and we’ll always be here,” Hanford McCloud said. “These stories can get forgotten, especially over a hundred years. It's important that our kids see this land and hear these stories too. It's my duty now to share and tell this story.”
Hanford McCloud said he was glad that JBLM had preserved the land's natural state since the area would have likely ended up as more urban development had it not been attached to the base.
Air Force Second Lieutenant Aaron Ault, a project manager for the 627th Civil Engineer Squadron who helped coordinate the event along with JBLM’s Directorate of Public Works, said that approximately 150 people attended, including members of the Nisqually Tribe, the base community, military retirees and civilians.
“When I was selected to help lead this and work with the tribe to coordinate it, I didn’t know much about their history,” Ault said. “But as I sat down with them and had meetings, I felt very honored to learn more about their history, their tribe, and these beautiful lands.”
Joyce McCloud, whose grandmother had lived in an allotment along the walk, reflected on the personal meaning of the land to her and to the Nisqually tribe.
“To imagine how they lived, remembering my grandma’s stories, it feels like coming home,” McCloud said. “To do this honor walk is like walking in their footsteps. It means a lot to some of us.”