Preliminary Discussions Underway on Where to Build Nisqually Tribe Historical Museum

By Eric Rosane / erosane@yelmonline.com
Posted 3/3/21

The Nisqually Indian Tribe is in preliminary talks with two Thurston County cities on where to build a new historical museum, and the City of Yelm is one of them. Both Yelm and the city of Lacey …

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Preliminary Discussions Underway on Where to Build Nisqually Tribe Historical Museum

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The Nisqually Indian Tribe is in preliminary talks with two Thurston County cities on where to build a new historical museum, and the City of Yelm is one of them. 

Both Yelm and the city of Lacey have been approached with concurrent talks still underway on the project, said Tribal Council Member and Nisqually culture specialist Hanford McCloud. 

The Tribe is currently looking to build an official museum space to better tell the story of its people while also possibly displaying some items of historic significance. The Yelm prairie also ties into that, since native people have for thousands of years called the place home. 

“I’m pretty happy we’re working toward a museum that tells the history of Yelm and also the Nisqually people, and sharing that rich history we have,” McCloud told the NVN. “The need for a Nisqually museum is really important.” 

Both McCloud and officials with the city of Yelm underscored that these discussions are still preliminary, with no location locked down yet. But that hasn’t stopped a stakeholders group from forming in Yelm.

The group — made up of members from the city, local school districts, city arts commission and the Yelm Historical Society — held an informal meeting on Feb. 5, Yelm Public Works Director Cody Colt said. The ad hoc group went over what they believed would make a suitable museum while also specifying needs. 

Colt said this opportunity presents a special opportunity for the Tribe and city to tell their stories together in a collaborative fashion. 

“Every piece of history needs to be recognized … I think that’s extremely important” said Colt, a former Yelm Middle School history teacher. “You don’t have a real good historical museum in the area. There’s a real need for that.” 

The Nisqually Tribe doesn’t currently have an official museum, McCloud said, though they operate their own library and cultural center. 



Yelm currently has a museum, though it’s staffed by volunteers and has been scarcely open, even prior to the coronavirus pandemic. The museum is overseen by the Yelm Prairie Historical Society. 

The city of Lacey operates a museum with specialized exhibits. It’s currently looking to expand into a new, larger space near St. Martin’s University — a project that has been in the works over the last 10 years. The schematic design for a new museum in Lacey was completed last year, according to the city, and could be a real draw for the Tribe. 

Yelm is currently in the conceptual design and cost estimate phase of building a new business incubator-education center on the corner of Washington and Third Street, and there’s been some talk that the Tribe’s museum could be built in conjunction or alongside that project if it’s chosen for the location. 

Last October, the Yelm City Council approved a nearly $135,000 conceptual design agreement and cost estimate for the proposed joint-use building, which is expected to rise two to three stories tall in the city’s downtown core. One possible idea being floated, Colt said, is that the group would add on the museum to the property or structure if it’s the right fit. 

“The idea is that it could either be in conjunction with the economic development center, with the incubator center a part of that, or it could be a separate thing,” Colt said. “And that’s kind of what we’re looking at right now.”

Colt said the Yelm stakeholders group is also looking at funding prospects, what grants the tribe or city could apply for and the possibility of eventually bringing in state or federal lawmakers into the mix. 

McCloud said the Tribe’s new museum would also look to highlight the fishing rights work and environmentalism that has taken root over the last 40 to 50 years in the Nisqually Valley, especially the work on the estuary and prairie with the Tribe’s state and federal partners. 

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