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Skokomish Indian Tribe

Comprising nearly 5,000 wooded and marshy acres, the Skokomish Indian Reservation lies on the Skokomish River delta, where it empties into Hood Canal on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. It lies between the Mason County cities of Shelton and Hoodsport. The aboriginal name of the Skokomish tribal members was Twana, which referred to a larger population that lived in the Hood Canal drainage before contact with Europeans and the creation of the reservation. The term Skokomish (or big river people) refers to the largest Twana group, which resided in villages along the Skokomish River and its north fork. It was but one of nine bands that shared a region, culture and language. The Twana language, or tuwaduqutSid, is a southern Puget Sound dialect of the Salish language family. Like the other Twana bands, the basic social unit of the Skokomish was the extended family, which might include relatives from other villages, or even members of bands outside the Twana area. Villages consisted of one or more such families. The Skokomish led a nomadic mode of existence, using movable warm weather camps, then regrouping in permanent cold weather villages. The Skokomish River and Hood Canal area was a source of subsistence foods, which included salmon, steelhead, other finned species and shellfish. Their hunting grounds reached to the Olympic Mountains in the west, and south to the neighboring Sahewamish tribe's main village, which is present-day Shelton. They also gathered plant foods. History records the Skokomishs' initial encounter with European culture in 1792. White explorers, trappers and traders were unwitting carriers of diseases to which indigenous peoples had no immunity. The Skokomish were hit with a withering smallpox epidemic that claimed the lives of numerous members. In the 1800s, the growing hegemony of the white culture, hungry for land and other resources as it moved westward, exerted tremendous pressure on indigenous cultures. One result was the signing of several treaties with the U.S. government that called for the native signatories to cede vast tracts of their homelands in exchange for reservations set aside for their protection, and the promise of federal benefits. The Skokomish Indian Reservation was established by the Point-No-Point Treaty on January 26, 1855. It was ratified by Congress on April 29, 1859, then expanded by a presidential executive order on February 25, 1874. Beginning at the turn of the century, the Skokomish confronted a number of fresh difficulties:

  • At around 1900, a businessman from Tacoma, Washington, procured land at the mouth of the Skokomish River. Earthmoving that followed destroyed such plant species as the sweetgrass prized by Skokomish women for their basketry.
  • Meanwhile, the State of Washington's jurisdictional claims over tidelands seriously limited the tribe's subsistence shellfish gathering tradition.
  • Between 1926 and 1930, the City of Tacoma erected two dams on the Skokomish River's north fork, which resulted in increased limitations on the tribe's saltwater access and the ruination of significant cultural sites.
  • Lastly, a choice shoreline tract was used by the state to create Potlatch State Park in 1960.
  • All of the foregoing provoked the Skokomish to file land claims in the courts. In 1965, compensation in the amount of $374,000 would be earmarked by the tribe to purchase a fish processing facility, as well as tribal housing. On the strength of treaty guarantees, the tribe also successfully regained fishing rights as a result of the historic Boldt Decision (1974), which ruled that 50 percent of the season's harvest would be reserved for them as well as other Northwest tribes. Years of flooding on tribal lands damaged numerous community buildings, businesses and homes, as well as highways and smaller roads. Responding to the impacts, the tribe dedicated a 338-acre tract in 2003 to a significant economic and community development effort involving a new community center and housing complex.

    See Indian Wars.
    See also Native American Cultural Regions map.