Steilacoom Tribe Government

Unbroken Leadership

Since the time of the Medicine Creek Treaty in 1854, the Steilacoom Tribe has used traditional methods to face the multitude of obstacles that they have encountered. The efforts of our People have produced an unbroken line of Leadership that has held our Tribe together, even without a Reservation.

Traditionally each Steilacoom Band had a Headman. The position was hereditary, being passed from father to son; except when special circumstances would require the ruling family to identify another successor. Whomever the Family selected was subject to the approval of the band membership. Subchiefs, generally brothers or cousins of the Headman, aided him in accomplishing organizational tasks for their band. There was no overall Chief of the entire Steilacoom Tribe; although, the Headman of the main village on Chambers Creek generally had more prestige and influence than the others.

Below you will find a chronological timeline of the Headman, post Medicine Creek Treaty.

Joan Ortez (back center, standing) along with the Steilacoom Tribal Council at the head table. ca. 1980s. Steilacoom Town Hall.

Joan Ortez (center, standing) along with the Steilacoom Tribal Council at the head table. ca. 1980s. Steilacoom Town Hall.

Danny Marshall, Chair 2006-2023; Rebecca Unzueta, Present Chair. November 30, 2023.

1848 | Sam Young

Sam Young, the Steilacoom Band Headman, displays his political talents at an intertribal council, successfully arguing against Snoqualmie Chief Patkanim's proposal to kill all British and Americans in the Puget Sound area.

1856 | Sam Young

Sam Young is elected as Chief of the entire Steilacoom Tribe, in an effort to centralize political authority for negotiations with the Americans. The following year, Young represents the Steilacoom Tribe in negotiating with Governor Stevens.

ca. 1878 | John Steilacoom

Sam Young retires as Tribal Headman at almost 80 years of age. Since none of his sons remain in the Steilacoom Tribe, the position is passed on to John Steilacoom, the son of a pre-treaty Headman and a relative of Sam Young's.

1906 | Descendants of Betsy LaTour

John Steilacoom dies. His eight year old son cannot assume the role of Headman. While his family waits to put forward someone else as the new Tribal Leader, descendants of Betsy LaTour (a cousin of John Steilacoom's mother) keep the Tribe functioning, acting as subchiefs.

ca. 1914 | Joseph McKay

Joseph McKay, a nephew of John Steilacoom, assumes the Leadership role of the Tribe.

1929 | Descendants of Betsy Latour

Joseph McKay resigns to join the Puyallup Tribe and share in judgement funds. Again, descendants of Betsy LaTour take over the main Leadership positions of the Tribe.

ca. 1939 | William Bertschy

Tribal Leader William Bertschy (a LaTour descendant) is told by his employer, the United States Navy, that he cannot be in Tribal politics and keep his job. He chooses to step down from Leadership to pursue his job.

1940 | Joe Eskew

Lou Andrews (William Bertschy's cousin, descendant of Betsy LaTour) selects Joe Eskew as the Family's choice for successor. Joe Eskew is an unenrolled Lummi with administrative skills. One year later Eskew is ousted by the general membership after his leftist leanings are discovered. Lou Andrews and others conduct Tribal business during the war years and beyond while seeking a replacement.

1951 | Louis Layton

The Andrews Family proposes Louis Layton, an unenrolled Colville, as the new Steilacoom Tribal Leader. He is accepted by vote of the general membership. Layton proves to be an excellent choice and is considered by some outside observes to be the "best chairman on Puget Sound." In 1974 the Steilacoom Tribal Leadership chooses to apply for and acquire a non-profit organization for the Steilacoom Tribal People.

1975 | Joan Marshall

Louis Layton steps down from the Tribal Leader role. He and the Andrews family select Lou Andrews' niece, Joan (Edwards) Marshall, to be his successor. Joan is a descendant of Betsy LaTour. When the Steilacoom Tribal Museum opens in 1988 she still holds the position, now Joan Ortez. In 2006 Joan passes away at the age of 70.

2006 | Danny Marshall

After Joan's passing, Danny Marshall, who had been serving as Vice Chairman, is chosen by vote of the general membership as Tribal Chairman. Danny is Joan's son and a descendant of Betsy LaTour.

2023 | Rebecca Unzueta

At the Annual Fall Citizens' Meeting Rebecca Unzueta is chosen by vote of the general membership as Tribal Chairperson. Becca is the daughter of Dolores Laux (Challender) and Saul Unzueta (Northern Durango Mexico). She is a descendant of Saspolitsa.