By Jerry Gorsline
The S'Klallam were called the Nux Sklai Yem, Strong People. Historically, they belonged to the Salish speaking people who lived from the central British Columbia Coast to northwestern Oregon and the interior Fraser and Columbia River basins. The Salish people were well established in the Puget Sound basin by 1400 A.D, having arrived from the interior by way of the Skagit and Fraser rivers.
For centuries, the Salish occupied the shores of the Straits of Juan de Fuca, Admiralty Inlet and Puget Sound, adapting their lives to the natural bounty of the land, rivers and sea. Permanent villages of plank and pole houses provided shelter for groups of extended families through the wet winters, which was a time of ceremonial and religious activities. In the spring, individual families made their seasonal rounds and camping at traditional fishing, hunting and gathering sites throughout their territory. Rush mats and notched cedar poles provided temporary shelter.
S'Klallam village at Point Julia
The S'Klallams were gathered in at least 15 villages stretching along the south shore of the Straits of Juan de Fuca. They enjoyed friendly relations with their Salish-speaking neighbors the Twana, and shared fishing sites with them in Hood Canal. The first contact between the S'Klallams and Europeans occurred in the last year of the 18th century, when English and Spanish explorers penetrated the Straits of Juan de Fuca, seeking the legendary Northwest Passage. After the explorers came fur traders, missionaries, gold seekers, then the settlers.
Profound cultural changes followed contact with Euro americans. Disease, such as smallpox, for which Native Americans had no immunity, devastated the population and social fabric of the S'Klallams. Estimates of mortality among the Pacific Northwest Indians, resulting form European-born disease, range as high as 90 percent. Hudson's Bay Company records suggest there were approximately 1,500 S'Klallams in 1845. By 1853, when the Washington Territory was created, government records indicated that S'Klallam numbers had dwindled to only about 400.
At this point, there were already some 4,000 settlers north of the Columbia River, mostly concentrated in the Puget Sound area. Bloody clashes between Indians and whites occurred throughout the territory with increasing frequency. Pioneer settlements were springing up in S'Klallam territory at places like Dungeness and Port Townsend, and a saw mill was already operating at nearby Port Ludlow. Our whole territory is alive with Indians, complained one pioneer, who kept up a most provoking and unceasing broil about the lands which they say the Bostons' [the Indian name for Americans] are holding without a proper and legitimate right and title to the same.
Early photo of the George family.
In November 1853, Isaac Stevens, Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the new territory, arrived in Olympia and promised that extinguishing the Indian land title was foremost on his agenda, to be resolved through the treaty-making authority granted him by the federal government. In the winter of 1855, the S'Klallam, Chemakum and Twana tribes gathered at the northeast point of the Kitsap Peninsula, Known as Point No Point (1), to negotiate a treaty with Isaac Stevens. On a cold January day, the S'Klallams signed away their title to 438,430 acres of ancestral lands.
Daisy Day Fulton with mill in background.
Courtesy of Lloyd Fulton.
Terms of the Point No Point treaty were poorly understood by the Indians. Negotiations were conducted in the extremely limited Chinook Jargon, a trade language consisting of a few hundred words, and the Euro american concept of private property was foreign to Native peoples' communal, family-based sense of territory.
Tribal members fishing at the mill during their lunch time.
Courtesy of Lloyd Fulton.
The treaty itself contained two inconsistent provisions: The S'Klallams secured the right to fish in their usual and accustomed grounds and stations, but they were assigned to the Skokomish Reservation 100 to 180 miles away from their usual and accustomed places along the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the mouth of Hood Canal. Population pressure from settlers rendered the treaty out of date before it was even ratified by the U.S. Senate four years later. Goods promised to the Indians under their treaty of January 1855 were not distributed for the first time until 1861. From the time of white settlement, until their treaty rights were recognized by court decision in the 1970s, the S'Klallam Nation faced a fundamental challenges to its existence.
Rose Purser with her granddaughter at a clambake.
The historic record is silent about what transpired between Talbot's men and the original occupants of what would become the mill town of Port Gamble. But, according to tribal oral history, the S'Klallams complied with Talbot's request that they relocate across the bay at Point Julia, with the promise they would always have work at the mill and lumber to build their new homes.
One of the first chores Talbot's men accomplished was to construct a store for trading with the S'Klallam people, as well as the nearby Twana, Suquamish and Chemakum Tribes. By late September of that year Talbot's Puget Mill Company began operations, and the history of the S'Klallam settlement at Point Julia, named Little Boston by a Yankee sea captain, begins.
In 1878 the Little Boston population was estimated to be about 100. That number remained consistent, more or less, through the last quarter of the nineteenth century. S'Klallam people living at Point Julia were quickly drawn into the developing American economy. They provided labor for the mill and acquired food and supplies at the Port Gamble store. While continuing their traditional hunting and gathering activities for substance, they sold fish and clams to the settlers at Port Gamble and
Talbot made good his promise to provide lumber for the homes at Point Julia, and gradually Little Boston evolved into a permanent settlement. Photographs from the turn of the century show about 20 new England- style frame houses, a school and a Catholic Church.
The sand spit forming Point Julia sometimes flooded, and also enclosed a small lagoon, so the buildings had to be elevated on posts. A covered trough was constructed to carry water from a nearby creek to the village. Gravity fed, it started at the bluff above the spit and ended about 3 feet off the ground. Tribal elders today remember getting water from the trough by lifting a board in the side, and also recall icicles forming on it during the winter.
Today's elders spent their childhood living on the spit, attending the Little Boston day school. A government teacher would travel to Port Gamble and row across the bay to Point Julia, returning home on weekends. Like many others Washington Indians, residents of Little Boston went to Puyallup Valley to pick hops during the late summer and early fall. Travel time to Tacoma was about two weeks by canoe. Berry picking jobs also attracted the S'Klallams to the southern part of Puget Sound. After stopping in Seattle, they typically voyaged to Tacoma, and camped along the shores of the Puyallup River. Their employers picked them up in a wagon and took them to the berry fields. At times, during the period between 1910 and 1920, families spent the winter at Washington Harbor near Sequim, and the cannery there. Some of the S'Klallams also went to Victoria, British Columbia, by way of Whidbey Island, to work in the fish canneries.
During this time, parents of today's elders were sent off to to government-run boarding schools, such as the Cushman Indian Trade Schools on the Puyallup Reservation near present day Tacoma. Officials used these schools to foster a program of assimilation. Isolated from their elders, the children were indoctrinated into the ways of the white world, learning the three R's and receiving training in manual trades and domestic sciences. Tribal language and traditional ways were prohibited. Many of today's tribal elders recall hearing their grandparents speaking S'Klallam, but not being able to understand them.
Gerald "Jake" Jones at the canoe shed.
In the late 1930s, the Port Gamble S'Klallams successfully petitioned the federal government to recognize their independent tribal status. In 1963, the United States government purchased Point Julia and some surrounding parcels that were owned by the Puget Mill Company, in order to create the 1,231-acre Port Gamble S'Klallam Reservation. In 1939, gasoline was poured on some of the houses at Point Julia and the village was burned to the ground. Some of the older people didn't want to leave the spit, having lived there most of their lives. One tribal member recalls an elder who had to be forced out of her home. She sat in an old chair while they were packing her stuff out. She was sitting there crying and talking to herself and singing in Indian. It was pitiful to watch. Under pressure from the federal government, the S'Klallams relocated on the bluff above Point Julia. A new era of federally-funded programs with the construction of replacement houses and community facilities for the tribal members, including a new school.
During the period from the 1930s to the 1970s, a growing non-native fishing industry led to disputes about Indian fishing rights. Fishing rights reserved by tribes at the time of the Stevens treaties came increasingly under attack. In the early 1960s state officials began to arrest Indians fishing off-reservation, confiscating their gear. Tensions led to violent confrontations. The various tribes conducted demonstrations and began a campaign of civil disobedience with the much-publicized fish-ins.
Young Tribal members practice paddling at Point Julia.
The federal government finally intervened in this bitter controversy. In 1974, in US v. Washington, Federal Judge George Boldt rendered a decision against the state of Washington, in favor of Indian treaty rights. He interpreted the treaty language securing the right of tribes to fish at their usual and accustomed places in common with all citizens, to mean that Indians should receive 50 percent of each year's salmon harvest. Following the Boldt decision in 1974, the Port Gamble and Lower Elwha S'Klallams joined with the Skokomish Tribe (formerly the Twana ) to form the Point No Point Treaty Council, a fisheries management cooperative designed to manage and enhance the fisheries resources in the Point No Point Treaty area.(3) In 1976, a Point No Point tribal fish hatchery was constructed at the base of the bluff on Point Julia, at the mouth of Little Boston Creek. The Tribe still uses this facility as both a hatchery and a herring roe processing plant.
Cooking "Salmon on a Stick"
The state of Washington refused to implement a Boldt decision and initiated a series of unsuccessful legal challenges. Seven years of court battles and civil disobedience ensued while the western Washington tribes continued to fight for their treaty rights. In 1981, the state finally adopted a negotiating posture, which led to the Puget Sound Management Plan in 1985. Under this plan, the tribes and state agreed to co-manage the fishery, sharing data, making run estimates, and setting harvest levels cooperatively.
Fisherman Mark Nilluka preparing his net for the fishing season.
During the 1980s the Port Gamble S'Klallam began to assert authority over their economic development, creating a gas station store, mobile home park and 20 acre business park on reservation lands. Tribal staff was increased from one dozen to over 50 people. An Economic Development Authority was created to support existing operations and to create new enterprise, and the Tribe began to administer Federal economic development grants.
Jeff Fulton setting his net for smelt.
Federal officials controlled the grant contracting process with regulations left little room for tribal flexibility. In order to assume full responsibility in the protection and advancement of their culture, economic and political goals, the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe joined the Tribal Self- Governance Project in 1990. Self- Governance returns decision making authority and management responsibility to the Tribes. Economic development is viewed by the Tribe as the development of human resources, not just jobs and revenues, and earnings are reinvested in the community.
. . . While the Port Gamble S'Klallams own a relatively small reservation, the Tribe continues to have the right to access and harvest resources in its traditional ( usual and accustomed ) areas beyond the reservation. This is in keeping with the intent of the Point No Point Treaty and the tribe's traditional way of life. Although some of the outward technologies have changed, the Port Gamble S'Klallams continued a tradition of resource utilization through fishing, hunting, clam digging and other activities. Other cultural traditions continued as well, though subtly, and in new forms.
Headstart teacher Chad Sullivan with his
students at Point Julia.
The S'Klallams are inland salt water and river people and their graceful cedar dugouts were this region's first traditional small craft. The canoe played a critical role in the native lifestyle and today it continues to play a significant part in contemporary northwest Indian culture. The S'Klallam Nation (which today includes the Port Gamble, Jamestown and Lower Elwha Tribes) is participating in a region-wide revival of the traditional canoe. In 1989, Port Gamble S'Klallam tribal members voyaged to Seattle in their hand-carved craft with a flotilla of more than 30 other dugouts. And again in 1993, they completed a 500-mile trip voyage to Bella Bella, British Columbia for a gathering of Coastal tribal nations.
Various tribal nations pulling into shore from
a canoe journey at Point Julia.
Over the years the Tribe's community and culture have maintained a great deal of continuity, enabling it to adapt to our changing world. The reason for this continuity is rooted in the land. The Port Gamble S'Klallam reservation land is owned by the Tribe as a whole, not by individuals. Communal sharing of the land has helped to preserve essential social and cultural traditions.
S'Klallam dancers performing
at the longhouse.
The Tribe's culture continues, though not through the beads and blankets that often make up the popular image of Indian people. These things exist, but they are not so much culture as artifacts. It exists not in the outward things, but in the inward life of the people, in their outlook on life and the way they relate to one another as taught by the elders represented in this publication.
The photographic and oral history of the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribal Elders
Sponsored by the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribal Council
The Washington Commission for the Humanities, a state program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribal Council, The center for Substance Abuse Prevention, The Indian Health Service
Project Directors: Marie Hebert. Carol Perron
Photographer: John Stamets
Historian: Jerry Gorsline
Oral Historians: Marie Hebert, Candi Ives, Kathy Purser, Lisa DeCoteau, Billie Jo Reynolds, Angie Charles, Karron Stiner, Renee Veregge, Jeffrey Veregge, Talia DeCoteau
Editor and Graphic Design: Fanie Carrier
American Friends Service Committee
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