POULSBO — The Suquamish and S’Klallam peoples have long been connected by geography and marriage.
“Our tribal communities have always had a mutual respect for each other. We collaborate politically, culturally and socially through intermarriage, athletics and our respective cultural and economic resurgences,” Suquamish Tribe Chairman Leonard Forsman writes in a guest column.
But that relationship has driven into some potholes.
Forsman, who has degrees in anthropology and historical preservation from the University of Washington and Goucher College, writes that the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe overstated S’Klallam’s historical presence in the Port Gamble area in recent news stories about efforts to buy 7,000 acres of North Kitsap forestland from Pope Resources.
In one part of the column, Forsman writes that Port Gamble S’Klallam’s roots in the area “start with their gradual migration from present-day Dungeness, Sequim and Port Angeles to work at the Port Gamble Mill … after Pope and Talbot finished building it in 1854.” He calls the S’Klallam’ pre-treaty ties to Port Gamble “seasonal.”
Forsman’s statements are contrary to S’Klallam’s version, which is that the town of Port Gamble is the site of an ancestral village.
According to his column, Forsman takes issue with a S’Klallam version of history that “neglects the Suquamish Tribe’s ancient territorial presence in and around Port Gamble Bay dating from time immemorial.” He cites interviews with Suquamish elders conducted by a University of Washington anthropologist in 1916, as well as Suquamish place names and written descriptions of Port Gamble by early white settlers.
Port Gamble S’Klallam Chairman Jeromy Sullivan, whose great-grandfather was Suquamish, was shocked to learn of Forsman’s letter. He learned of it Wednesday, just two hours after he saw Forsman at the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians winter convention in Centralia.
Sullivan believes the column is a response to Port Gamble S’Klallam’s opposition to a proposal to change the name of Squamish Harbor in Jefferson County to Suquamish Harbor. The Suquamish Tribe asked the state Committee on Geographic Names for the name change, saying the name currently in use is a misspelling of Suquamish; Squamish is the name of First Nation in mainland British Columbia. The committee approved the request and forwarded it on to the state Department of Natural Resources for approval.
Sullivan said Port Gamble S’Klallam and the Skokomish Tribe have their own historical names for the harbor and want them considered. He said Port Gamble S’Klallam representatives will be at DNR’s Feb. 5 meeting in Olympia when the name change is considered.
Forsman was not available for comment.
Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish also disagree on Suquamish claims of hunting rights in S’Klallam’s historical territory, Sullivan said.
In addition, the letter comes as the Suquamish Tribe is suing the U.S. Navy for excluding it from a settlement made with Port Gamble S’Klallam and Skokomish for damages to salmon habitat caused by the second explosives handling wharf under construction at Bangor. The Navy said Suquamish wasn’t eligible for settlement because it has secondary fishing rights in Hood Canal, meaning it can fish there only with the permission of the Skokomish Tribe. That lawsuit continues.
Sullivan called the letter “unfortunate.”
“I wholeheartedly disagree with their position and how they’re defining where they come from,” Sullivan said. “In the same exact literature they cite, we can do the exact same thing [in proving ancient presence in Port Gamble Bay]. British Columbia [First Nations] and the Skokomish Tribe can do the same thing. It’s silly. The S’Klallam definitely hunted and fished in this area. On Point Julia, we held celebrations and potlatches. Our anthropologists say there’s a [S’Klallam] presence that dates 1,000 years -- that’s what they can find so far. Our presence here is strong, our story is strong. The fact we continue to be here says something about our side of the story.”
Josh Wisniewski, anthropologist for the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, said oral histories place the S’Klallam people at what is now Port Gamble before contact. And shellfish middens at Point Julia indicate continuous human occupation dating back 1,000 years.
“They can trace their families and know their families have been here a very long time,” he said.
Sullivan said S’Klallam has never denied the Suquamish presence in Port Gamble; in the two articles specifically mentioned by Forsman, Sullivan addressed only S’Klallam’s ties to the Port Gamble area. Sullivan said it would be inappropriate for him to tell Suquamish’s story.
Sullivan said Port Gamble was a permanent S’Klallam village but a seasonal place “for a lot of Tribes to come together.”
“We’ve never said they didn’t have a presence here,” he said of Suquamish. “They’re the only Point Elliott treaty tribe that has rights here. But did they have dominance or a primary village here? I would strongly disagree.”
Port Gamble S’Klallam is a signatory to the Treaty of Point No Point, which was signed at the site of the lighthouse in 1855 by representatives of the United States and the S’Klallam, Chimakum and Skokomish nations. The United States recognized those indigenous peoples as the original inhabitants of the lands bordered roughly by the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north, the territory of the Makah nation to the west, the Satsop River to the south, the territory of the Nisqually nation to the east, and up to Admiralty Inlet. The treaty was signed by 56 indigenous leaders and 19 U.S. representatives.
Suquamish is a signatory to the Treaty of Point Elliott, signed in Mukilteo in 1855 by representatives of the United States and leaders of 22 indigenous nations in an area bordered roughly by the 49th parallel to the north, the Gulf of Georgia, Haro Strait and the middle of Admiralty Inlet to the west, to Point Southworth to the south, and east to the Cascade range.
Communities then were complex. The late Dr. Wayne Suttles, an anthropologist who devoted his career to the study of Coast Salish languages and lifeways, wrote that resource rights — including the right to fish and hunt — expanded through marriage into other indigenous nations.
While the region’s First Peoples had their territories, Sullivan said, “there was not a lot of staking of claims. We had respect for each other.”