The word S'Klallam means "the strong people." Aboriginal S'Klallam bands inhabited present-day Washington State's northern Olympic Peninsula. Clallam County, whose northern edge is the shoreline of the Olympic Peninsula, is named after the S'Klallam.
The tribe was a distinct group whose villages were unified by intermarriage and language. The S'Klallam tongue is a member of the Salishan family of Indian languages. Village sites existed from the Hoko River on the west to Puget Sound on the east, and villages flanked both shores of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. A S'Klallam village once flourished at what would become downtown Port Angeles.
Like their neighbors, the S'Klallam relied heavily upon the rich Northwest waters to harvest
salmon and other finned species, as well as shellfish. The Elwha River was a customary
waterway for subsistence, but also for inter-village get-togethers. They moved to upriver
villages as they followed the seasons. Families also trekked over the Olympic Mountains to
gather plants and berries, and hunt for large game. The S'Klallam venerated the mountains,
which they held to be sacred.
Englishman Robert Duffin's arrival on a longboat expedition from the west coast of Vancouver
Island in July 1788 marked the first recorded encounter between Europeans and the S'Klallam.
The early explorers were unwitting carriers of smallpox, measles, influenza and tuberculosis, to
which the indigenous people had no immunity. Entire villages withered in a massive social
dislocation as waves of epidemics swept through.
Passage of the Oregon Donation Land Act in 1850 further changed the lives of Native Americans for the worse. The act authorized the distribution of free land to settlers in the regions that eventually became Oregon and Washington. In effect, the federal government offered acreage to homesteaders without first acquiring ownership from the first occupants.
That changed on January 26, 1855. That day, the Point No Point Treaty was signed by representatives of the SíKlallam, Skokomish, and Chemakum tribes. Washington territorial
governor and Indian agent Isaac Stevens signed for the federal government. Under the treaty
terms, the tribes relinquished approximately 750,000 acres to the government, but reserved
their aboriginal right to fish, hunt, and gather on those lands. In turn, the government pledged
to provide an agricultural and industrial school, a blacksmith, carpenter, farmer and physician
for a period of 20 years.
In addition, the treaty terms promised a payment of $60,000 to the tribes payable over 20
years. A reservation was established at Skokomish, but the S'Klallams attempted to remain
near their traditional harvesting areas. The treaty was ratified by Congress in 1859.
In the 1860s, settlers quickly availed themselves of the opportunity to establish land claims under the act. Port Angeles and other towns sprouted up in that period. Homesteaders forced many
S'Klallam from their ancestral home sites on which they squatted. They had no land of their
own on which they could resettle. Some S'Klallam bought land, but discovered they could not
secure title because they were not citizens of the United States.
In the 1870s, white settlers in the Washington Territory began to urge the Bureau of Indian
Affairs to relocate all treaty Native Americans to reservations.
With passage of the 1884 Indian Homestead Act, several S'Klallam families became land
holders. By establishing homesteads, however, the S'Klallam were compelled to end relations
with other tribal members. Many chose to leave their home sites to avoid that eventuality.
Those times were difficult for many, because they had no permanent homes and their shanty
villages were frequently dislocated, thanks to settler pressure.
The S'Klallam faced hunger as well, due to hampered fishing access. A 1910 Washington
state law was passed that required a license to fish. The lack of U.S. citizenship prevented
tribal members from obtaining the license. In 1924, all Indians finally won citizenship, but
Washington State continued to inhibit its indigenous residents' right to fish.
In 1974, the historic Boldt decision was handed down, which ensured that 50 percent of the
region's fish harvest would go to Northwest tribes.
The present-day S'Klallam Tribe is divided into three subtribes that reside on small reservations in Washington. The Lower Elwha S'Klallam are located west of Port Angeles at the mouth of the Elwha River. The Jamestown S'Klallam own land at Blyn on Sequim Bay. The Port Gamble S'Klallam reside on the northwest end of the Kitsap Peninsula.
Brief additional history of the Lower Elwha S'Klallam subtribe
Under the auspices of the Indian Reorganization Act (1934), 14 tribal families acquired a 327-acre tract in the Elwha Valley in 1938. The tract became a reservation in 1968 when the
tribe achieved federal recognition. In 1969, indoor plumbing was installed in reservation
houses and electricity followed in the early '70s.
The Boldt decision (1974) aided the tribe in reacquiring their fishing rights, which was followed by construction of a fish hatchery and tribal center in 1975 and '76, respectively. Over subsequent years, the tribe bought additional acreage for houses and other development, bringing the total to 965 acres as of 2004.
In their own words:
"Reviving our culture and language is becoming of great importance. A resurgence in creating
the traditional canoes began in the late '80s. The process of creating the traditional canoes
would involve intertribal partnerships to assist each other with the almost lost art of canoe
carving. Aside from the physical carving of the canoes; the whole cultural/spiritual realm of
knowledge had to be researched, remembered, taught, practiced and shared inside each tribal
village wherever it was lacking. Along with canoes; many other necessary items would need to
be created such as paddles, capes, vests, headbands, tools, bailers, and the list goes on. The protocol of visiting, welcoming, gifting, appropriate use of songs and dance; all needed to be reintroduced into the culture. The first successful canoe journey was in 1989; The Paddle to Seattle. Since then there has been many canoe journeys that the tribes of Washington
State and Canada organize together. There are many reasons for these journeys. This yearly
activity provides prevention alternatives to drug and alcohol use for the youth, teaches our young the importance of our culture and language, and spurs intertribal relations.
"Another big development in the culture and language area is the agreement between the school
district and tribe to allow Klallam language to be taught at the high school as of 1998. This
greatly helps the spread of knowledge to our children, and instills a feeling of pride while in school."
Brief additional history about the Jamestown S'Klallam subtribe
The beginning of the Jamestown S'Klallam community occurred in 1874 when a 100-member
subtribe of S'Klallam, through S'Klallam Lord James Balch's leadership, came up with $500 to
purchase a 210-acre tract near the town of Dungeness. The members sustained themselves by
fishing, gardening, and hiring on to nearby pulp mills.
The federal government furnished services to the Jamestown S'Klallam until 1953, when they were deprived of formal recognition status. Nevertheless, the tribe held together and was
acknowledged as a recognizable entity by fellow S'Klallam subtribes as well as other Washington Native Americans. The cohesion the tribe continued to enjoy was based on its own corner of the world, the acreage purchased in 1874. At the same time, the tribe strove to become a part of the surrounding non-Indian community, its economy, and its educational offerings.
But all was not well. Lack of federal recognition had deprived the Jamestown tribe of certain fishing and hunting rights. For that reason, the tribal membership's outlook changed in the early 1970s. Thanks to poor economic prospects, the tribe also faced increasing difficulty with providing health care and education to its members. They concluded that regaining federal recognition was the obvious option to supply those essential services. An effort to achieve it that began around 1974 finally met with success on February 10, 1981.
Following federal recognition, the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe began to procure more acreage;
specifically, land at Blyn. The tribe also gradually enhanced its economic health with business ventures:
an oyster processing and sales plant,
two art galleries,
business park building,
information technology business,
commercial/residential construction business, and
7 Cedars Casino.
Brief additional history about the Port Gamble S'Klallam subtribe
The Port Gamble SíKlallam occupied a village on the west side of Port Gamble Bay at Teekalet until 1853, at which time a settler, Captain Josiah P. Keller, arrived in Port Gamble with machinery to set up the Puget Sound Mill Company. Keller found Port Gamble to be a perfect mill site. On October 6, he filed a Donation Land Claim for three sections of land,
including the Point Julia area, land at present-day Port Gamble, and the spit at Teekalet Bluff
on the northwest side of Port Gamble.
Keller faced two hindrances to starting his mill: First, the SíKlallam lived at the site; and
second, their title had not been transferred to the federal government. Negotiations followed.
The S'Klallam were asked to move off the site to the Point Julia spit. There were incentives:
They were offered free lumber for houses and scrap for firewood. An agreement was reached.
The SíKlallam remained on mill company land at the spit at Point Julia and worked at the mill
on the other side of the bay where they were reportedly respected as skilled employees. The
tribeís village at Point Julia had boardwalks, a school building and a church. It was dubbed
Little Boston, a name that stuck.
Under the auspices of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the federal government purchased 1,234 acres of land from the mill company near Point Julia for $15,000. On June 16, 1938, the Secretary of the Interior issued a proclamation, setting aside the lands acquired as a reservation. Today, the Port Gamble S'Klallam have a 1,340-acre reservation.
The Port Gamble SíKlallam continue to engage in traditional fishing and hunting as assured by
the 1855 treaty. They also hold to customs and conduct rituals like those of pre-contact days.
They participate with other S'Klallam tribes in annual canoe voyages, celebrate an annual
Environment Day, and have constructed a longhouse for community functions.