History & Culture

The following intro and timeline are excerpted from The Strong People: A History of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. This excerpted intro was written by Ron Charles.

When referring to our people, I personally use the term “Klallam.” It is what I was used to growing up. The Tribe’s name has been also spelled “Clallam.” The original word was nəxʷsƛ̕áy̕əm̕. In recent years, the Port Gamble and Jamestown tribes went back to the name used in the Treaty of Point No Point, “S’Klallam.” The Lower Elwha Tribe continues to use “Klallam.”

Much of the history of the early S’Klallams living in the Port Gamble area was never recorded, but it is safe to say that the residents of nəxʷq̕íyt were puzzled and dismayed to find that, under the terms of the 1855 Treaty of Point No Point, they were expected to pick up and move sixty miles away to the Skokomish Reservation. They wondered what sense it made for them to pack up and go to this unfamiliar place, where they were not even sure if they could make a subsistence living, and where they were very likely to get a less than enthusiastic welcome from the Twana, who were already crowded into a small area.

Why would they leave the Port Gamble area, when they were just getting accustomed to the white man’s ways, working at the many jobs in and around the mill, where their conscientious work greatly pleased the mill owners.

No real effort was ever made to compel the S’Klallams to move, and the influential mill man could very well have had something to do with all that, as the Indian came to be very important to the mill operation.

During the approximately eighty years that the village of nəxʷq̕íyt was occupied, it is clear that, despite the harsh living conditions in the cold, damp climate on Port Gamble Bay; despite the deadly toll from epidemics like tuberculosis; despite the continued loss of the favorite fishing, hunting, and gathering places to the influx of settlers; and, finally despite having to live through some of the worst of economic times, these folks chose to stay. They stayed under some trying circumstances, but over the years their leaders would resolutely continue to remind recalcitrant government officials of treaty promises not kept and the S’Klallams’ anger at not having a homeland of their own.

Over the years, the federal government would make half-hearted efforts to appease the S’Klallams, promising them allotments of land on other Northwest reservations, but these offers were always flatly rejected by their leaders, who refused to budge from the lands where so many of their people lay buried. The Port Gamble people were forced to wait eighty long years before the federal government relented and offered them 1,300 acres of land on Port Gamble Bay.

The successful S’Klallam quest for a homeland turned out to be somewhat of a bittersweet victory, however, because a few short years later, the Kitsap County government ordered the tribe to abandon and burn their old village of nəxʷq̕íyt.

After more than eighty years of being lashed by strong winds and floodwaters, the old village had fallen unquestionably into disrepair. Nevertheless, the event was especially traumatic for the old folks, as they watched the only home they had every known unceremoniously set afire. It was indeed a sad day.

It was a victory, nonetheless, because these tough and resilient people had won despite formidable odds, and had convinced a skeptical federal government that they did indeed deserve a homeland of their own.

A Historical Timeline of the Port Gamble S’Klallam

Excerpted, in part, from The Strong People