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Timeline of Native, European, and American Contact in the Pacific Northwest


15,000 years ago—Indigenous people arrive in present-day North America. According to a study published in Nature (2012) by Harvard geneticists – there were three migration waves, first by sea and then two subsequent overland migrations.

1543Pacific Northwest claimed by Spain

1579There is some evidence that Northwest coast is sighted by Sir Francis Drake and claimed for England.

1707—Spanish galleon San Francisco Xavier, shipwrecks on the coast of Oregon

1728—Russian explorer Vitus Bering sees the straits that now bear his name

1763—Royal Proclamation of 1763 prohibits large-scale settlement west of the Appalachians by non-aboriginal people until the lands were surrendered by treaty.

1774—Juan José Pérez Hernández  A Mexican sailing for Spain reaches Nootka Sound but does not go ashore. Sights Haida Gwai.

1775—Bruno de Heceta and Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra land on the Washington coast and claim the area for Spain. On his return south, they see the mouth of the Columbia River. Bodega y Quadra would return to the Pacific Northwest again in 1779. As Commandant of San Blas Mexico he would sail again to the PNW in 1790 and negotiate the Nootka Convention with George Vancouver, who named an island after them both – The Island of Quadra and Vancouver Island – now shortened to Vancouver Island.

1778—James Cook (British) enters Nootka Sound and trades for pelts, which earn huge profits in Asia.

1788John Meares (English) sailed from China and explored Nootka Sound, bought some land from a local chief named Maquinna and built a trading post there.

1789Esteban José Martínez (Spain) started building a fort in Friendly Cove, Nootka Sound, named Fort San Miguel.


  • Robert Gray (American) names the Columbia River after his ship.

  • George Vancouver (British) explores and names Puget Sound, and Lieutenant William Broughton explores the Columbia  River up to Point Vancouver.

  • Spain establishes the first non-Indian settlement in Washington at Neah Bay.

1793—Alexander Mackenzie becomes the first European to reach the Pacific overland north of the Rio Grande​. Meets the Pacific near present-day Bella Coola.

1795Nootka Convention, Spain relinquishes its claims in the Pacific Northwest.

1803–1806Lewis and Clark Expedition. The Corps of Discovery reach the Pacific Ocean on November 15, 1805.

1807–1811David Thompson charts the Columbia River, coming from inland.

1811John Jacob Astor builds Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River as part of his Pacific Fur Company.

1818United States and Great Britain agree to joint occupation of the Oregon Territory.

1819Civilization Fund Act provides funding to societies who work to "civilize" Native people in the U.S.

1821Hudson's Bay Company merges with the North West Company.

1825Hudson’s Bay Company establishes Fort Vancouver on the Columbia.

1841—US Exploring Expedition (Charles Wilkes) charts the waters of Puget Sound. Philologist Horatio Hale is aboard.

1849—creation of the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island. In 1851 James Douglas is appointed Governor.

1851First white settlers, The Denny Party, land on the site of Seattle.

1852–5James Swan takes up residence at Shoalwater Bay.

1853Washington Territory created.

1854–1856A number of treaties are signed between Native Americans living in Washington Territory and the U. S. government.

1855–58Yakima Indian War, Battle of Seattle (January 1856).

1858—Fraser Canyon Gold Rush leads to the establishment of the Colony of British Columbia led by Richard Clement Moody, who established a capital at New Westminster.

1865—U.S. Civil War ends. Union Pacific Railroad heads west.

1867U.S. purchase of Alaska


  • British Columbia becomes the sixth province of Canada, ending serious discussion of annexation by the U.S.

  • Indian Appropriations Act (U.S.) states that Indians are no longer considered sovereign nations but wards of the federal government.

1876​Indian Act creates a system of Residential Schools in Canada, and an amendment in 1884 makes them compulsory. In 1996 the last school closes.

1879—Carlisle Indian Industrial School is founded by the US Army officer Richard Henry Pratt and becomes a model for others established by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Pratt said in a speech in 1892, "A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him and save the man."

1883Northern Pacific Railroad completed to Tacoma, linking Washington to the East.

1885–1951Potlach Ban (Canada)

1888—completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway

1889Washington becomes the 42nd state.

1928Merriam Report (U.S.) recommends changes to Native education.

1975—Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (U.S.) recommends moving from residential model to community schools.

1984Guerin v The Queen the Supreme Court of Canada states that the government has a fiduciary duty towards the First Nations of Canada.

2008—Prime Minister Stephen Harper formally apologizes for the Residential School system. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission is set up.

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