Framing Chief Leschi

Narratives and the Politics of Historical Justice

By Lisa Blee

320 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 13 halftones, 1 map, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1284-3
    Published: March 2014
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-1285-0
    Published: March 2014

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In 1855 in the South Puget Sound, war broke out between Washington settlers and Nisqually Indians. A party of militiamen traveling through Nisqually country was ambushed, and two men were shot from behind and fatally wounded. After the war, Chief Leschi, a Nisqually leader, was found guilty of murder by a jury of settlers and hanged in the territory's first judicial execution. But some 150 years later, in 2004, the Historical Court of Justice, a symbolic tribunal that convened in a Tacoma museum, reexamined Leschi's murder conviction and posthumously exonerated him. In Framing Chief Leschi, Lisa Blee uses this fascinating case to uncover the powerful, lasting implications of the United States' colonial past.

Though the Historical Court's verdict was celebrated by Nisqually people and many non-Indian citizens of Washington, Blee argues that the proceedings masked fundamental limits on justice for Indigenous people seeking self-determination. Underscoring critical questions about history and memory, Framing Chief Leschi challenges readers to consider whether liberal legal structures can accommodate competing narratives and account for the legacies of colonialism to promote social justice today.

A project of First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies

About the Author

Lisa Blee is assistant professor of history at Wake Forest University.
For more information about Lisa Blee, visit the Author Page.


Framing Chief Leschi adds to the already-impressive multipress series, First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies.”--Journal of American History

“Serves as an example of the ways in which symbolic actions can promote and encourage change, altering the public mentality and reaffirming Native agency in the rewriting of American history.”--Pacific Northwestern Quarterly

“Provides a nuanced look at historical memory and the search for historical justice. . . . Readers interested in the study of historical memory, oral traditions, colonialism, justice, law, and American Indians will find the book a valuable case study.”--Ohio Historical Quarterly

"Blee uses the Historical Court as an opening for nuanced and sophisticated discussions of the framing of war, violence, dispossession, memory, and justice under a liberal colonial regime."--NAIS

"Blee's study of contested history and an Indian leader's evolving significance illustrates in fresh, compelling ways the complex nature and importance of the endeavor we call history. It will no doubt be useful to scholars in several fields, particularly American Indian, public, Pacific Northwest, or Western history. It could be a valuable teaching tool for students of historical method and historical memory, both graduate and undergraduate."--Alexandra Harmon, author of Rich Indians: Native People and the Problem of Wealth in American History

"While on its face this book is about Chief Leschi's history, re-trial, and role in the Pacific Northwest, Blee makes its purpose and argument more about the complexity, and even impossibility, of disentangling history and memory in the effort to engage the U.S. history and present of colonialism, and thus also the effort to move towards justice for indigenous peoples."--Kevin Bruyneel, Babson College