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Tribes of the Olympics

Makah Tribe, Hoh Tribe, Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe, Quileute Tribe, Quinault Nation, Skokomish Tribe, Squaxin Tribe, Suquamish Tribe, Elwha Klallam Tribe, Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe, Treaties

Olympic is the traditional homeland of more Native American groups than any other National Park unit. A unique opportunity exists to understand the relationship between these people and the ecosystem they live in. At a time prior to what Euro-Americans call the historic period, there were approximately 10,000 people living on the Olympic Peninsula. The tribes on the peninsula were formalized through treaties in 1855. Prior to the designation of tribes, language and kinship defined the numerous village groups. Native American religion, language and subsistence practices were repressed by the influx of Euro-American culture. However, the tribal groups were able to retain their distinct cultural identity and the oral tradition that links them with the landscape of the peninsula.

The Olympic mountains were divided to protect the hunting territory of certain groups. Some areas were used by several tribes, for example, an elk hunting expedition high in the Olympics was recorded by two anthropologists who said that the Quinault, Skokomish and Dosewalips all camped in the same area at the same time. They traveled into the mountains by canoe as far as possible, and then packed in the rest of the way. Visits with other tribes in the mountains were important for meeting a spouse, as it was taboo to marry someone who was a relative. In the case of the hunting camp, oral history recounts that the Quinault requested that their boy marry a Dosewalips girl. After the union, there was a huge feast, and the Quinault and Dosewalips were then related by marriage.

In 1889, the Seattle Press Expedition wrote that the Indians did not penetrate the mountains. However, the expedition followed what they called an "ancient Indian trail." When the expedition started they met several Indian men along the upper Elwha. These men were cooking elk that they had just hunted. The expedition wrote that these Indians did not know the country above their camp, however, how they concluded this is questionable, considering that the Indian hunters pointed out a trail to the expedition members. If the expedition members knew the Klallam language, they probably would have understood some helpful advice on why there was a lull in travel through the Olympics in February.

The mountains are a place of spiritual importance, both in the past and present. A Klallam man, who loved the mountains, spent a great deal of his life at campsites in the highcountry. The question can be raised; if mountain use was common, why is there so little information recorded about this use. Historic accounts were often written by people from another culture, with their own personal perceptions. For those who are not avid hikers, the idea of hiking across the Olympics might seem impossible. The mountains are a logical thoroughfare, providing a treeless route for most of the trip, as well as an abundance of game, plants and scenery. Entire families traveled to the mountains, and spent many seasons, and sometimes several years at favorite places. One Klallam mother, was known to hike across the Olympics with all of her children to visit relatives at Taholah as casually as if she were traveling in the family station wagon.

By the time European settlers had come into the area, a major portion of the mountain use was interrupted. Thousands of people among the peninsula tribes died as a result of epidemics by the 1850s. Entire villages were stricken, which led to the concentration of those that remained into fewer and fewer villages.

Makah Tribe

The Makah Indian Reservation is located on the northwestern tip of the Olympic Peninsula and was created by the provisions of the 1855 treaty of Neah Bay, signed by the Makah and Ozette. The reservation encompasses 27,265 acres, and the Ozette reservation, approximately ten miles south at Cape Alava, consists of 709 acres and is held in trust for the Makah Tribe. There are nearly 1600 Makah tribal members.

The major tribal economy is fishing, which has been severely impacted in recent years. The Makah Tribe own and operate an internationally renowned museum facility, the Makah Cultural and Research Center (MCRC). Approximately 17,000 people visit the MCRC each year. The MCRC houses over 60,000 artifacts and over a million faunal remains, in addition to substantial archival collections. The MCRC's programs include education and language preservation. The Makah speak a language that is part of the Nootkan subgroup of the Wakashan linguistic stock spoken on Vancouver Island.

Hoh Tribe

The Hoh Reservation was set aside in 1893 by Executive Order and is comprised of 443 acres on the south side of the Hoh River at its mouth. Hoh tribal membership is about 120 people. Most of the economy of the Hoh is derived from fishing and shellfishing.

The Hoh speak the Quileute language and were once a village, among many Quileute villages. Some researchers believe they originally spoke Quinault and later began speaking Quileute exclusively. The Hoh, Quileute and Quinault all signed the "Quinaielt River Treaty" of 1855.

Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe The settlement known as Jamestown was established when the Klallam residents of the area near Sequim were pressured to leave their homeland as a result of Euro-American settlement. The Klallam community pooled their funds and purchased 210 acres from a logging company in 1874. Although they were politically autonomous, and were signatories to the Treaty of Point No Point, the Jamestown S'Klallam were not federally recognized until 1981. As a result of recognition they acquired five acres of trust land at Sequim Bay where the reservation is today.

The tribe has one of the most successful development companies in this area, including the Seven Cedars casino and an extensive art gallery. There are 230 tribal members, 80 who fish and gather coastal resources. The Jamestown S'Klallam share the same treaty rights as the other Klallam tribes and all three tribes work together toward preserving the Klallam language.

Quileute Tribe

The Quileute Tribe is located on the Pacific Coast of the Olympic Peninsula at the mouth of the Quillayute River. The Quileute language is part of the Chimakuan linguistic family. Today, the only speakers from this family are the Hoh and the Quileute. The Chemakum Tribe, now extinct, also spoke a language in this family. The Quileute were signatories to the Treaty with the Quinault, along with the Hoh Tribe. The Quileute reservation was established in 1889 by presidential proclamation, after it was clear that the Quileute did not want to leave their homeland to live on the Quinault Reservation.

The Quileute Reservation encompasses 814 acres. The townsite of La Push on the reservation is a destination resort for many visitors to the Olympic Peninsula because of the beauty of its location, open beaches, and proximity to Highway 101. The main economy of the Quileute is fishing, and they market and process salmon at their seafood company. There are about 450 tribal members.

Quinault Nation

The Quinault Indian Nation is located on the Pacific Coast, north of Gray's Harbor. The reservation was created by the provisions of the "Quinaielt River Treaty" of 1855. The intention of the treaty commission was to locate numerous coastal tribes onto this reservation. Today, those who can verify that they are at least one quarter Quinault, Queets, Quileute, Hoh, Chehalis, Cowlitz, or Chinook can become a tribal member, if they are not a member of another tribe. The Queets village is located at the northern end of the reservation, and contains a distinct community from the Quinault village at Taholah, although they share tribal government. The reservation also contains the community of Amanda Park on Lake Quinault. There are approximately 2,385 Quinault Tribal members.

The Quinault language is a branch of the Salishan language family. This Quinault language was spoken by the Quinault, Queets and Copalis. In 1917, war efforts induced the BIA to begin logging on the Quinault Reservation. Today the tribe is attempting to regenerate the years of clearcutting and accumulated slash. The tribe has its own seafood processing plant.

Skokomish Tribe

The Skokomish Tribe is located on the east side of the Olympic Peninsula at the head of Hood Canal on the mouth of the Skokomish River. The Skokomish Reservation was established with the signing of the Treaty at Point-No-Point in 1855 and currently contains 5213 acres. The Skokomish constituted several villages of Skokomish speakers before the treaty united all speakers of the Twana language onto the reservation. Today there are 690 tribal members.

The Skokomish are currently trying to mitigate for the losses created by two dams on the Skokomish River in the 1920s. The Skokomish Tribe has a very strong cultural committee, consisting of spiritual leaders, elders, and other tribal members who advise the tribal council on cultural activities.

Squaxin Tribe

The Squaxin Island Tribal headquarters are located in Shelton, Washington, just south of the Skokomish. The Squaxin were signatories to the Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854, and the small 1,496 acre Squaxin Island reservation was established under this treaty. With compulsory education, families moved closer to communities and the island retained only a few residents. The Squaxin did not become a federally recognized tribe until 1965. Since 1965, the tribe has acquired a landbase of 1500 acres near Shelton where it developed housing, and tribal services. The Squaxin dialect is part of the Lushootseed language, which is in the Salishan language family.

Suquamish Tribe

The Suquamish Tribe's reserved land, the Port Madison Indian Reservation, is located on the Kitsap Peninsula, and extends to Puget Sound. The reservation was established by the 1855 Point Elliot Treaty. One of the signatories of the treaty was Suquamish leader, Chief Sealth, namesake of the city of Seattle. The 7,762 acre reservation accommodates tribal members, other Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and non-Indians. Port Madison is one of the few Indian Reservations in the country with two geographic sections separated by a land mass. The native Suquamish language is part of the Lushootseed language group and is used in tribal government documents, is being taught to tribal members, and soon will be on street signs. The population of the Suquamish tribe was 794 as of May 1, 1996.

Each year the tribe hosts two events on the reservation. Chief Seattle Days is every third weekend in August and a Native American Art Fair occurs every third weekend in April.

Elwha Klallam Tribe

The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe was not organized under the IRA until 1968, although trust lands were purchased in 1937. The reservation was established in 1960. The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe's reservation lands are located on the east side of the Elwha River at its mouth on the northern edge of the Olympic Peninsula, directly across from Victoria, British Columbia and currently consists of 427 acres. There are approximately 650 tribal members. Fishing and gathering activities are an important component of tribal subsistence.

The tribe is currently working with the National Park Service and other federal agencies toward restoration of the Elwha River ecosystem. The tribe has been very active in establishing a language program over the past five years, and has made great developments with this program, including recording oral history, documenting historic photos and place names.

Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe

The Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe is one of three Klallam tribes. Port Gamble was the first Klallam tribe established under the IRA. Their reservation was set aside near the Pope and Talbot lumber mill where many Klallam worked and had settled. The reservation is located on the North Kitsap Peninsula, across the bay from the Port Gamble mill and consists of approximately 1300 acres. Tribal membership is near 900.

Although located off of the Olympic Peninsula, the Port Gamble S'Klallam share ceded lands with the other two Klallam Tribes, as well as Usual and Accustomed fishing locations. The Klallam were all signatories to the Treaty of Point No Point in 1855, along with the Skokomish, and now extinct Chemakum. The Klallam speak the Clallam language, which is of the Central Salish branch of the Salishan linguistic family.


In 1853, when Washington Territory was formed, Governor Isaac Stevens, superintendent of Indian Affairs, was anxious to extinguish Indian title to lands in the territory through treaties. On the Peninsula, Stevens set aside three reservations under the three treaties: the Skokomish, Quinault and Makah reservations. However, those who were expected to move away from their homes refused to go; and eventually smaller reservations were established for the three Klallam tribes, the Hoh tribe, the Quileute tribe, as well as the Chehalis tribe. The treaties ceded tribal land to the U.S. Government in exchange for promises. Some of the promises include the continuance of fishing, shell fishing, and other resource acquisition.

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