Suquamish Tribe’s long ancestral presence in Port Gamble Bay | Guest Column

Chairman, The Suquamish Tribe

Recent articles appearing in Crosscut, High Country News and other media outlets have ignored, or at the least discounted, the antiquity of the Suquamish Tribe’s presence in Port Gamble Bay.

It is true that the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe (PGST) has maintained a permanent settlement on the east side of the Bay dating from 1854 and that this settlement became their reservation in 1938. PGST, however, misleads the public with their unsupported claim of aboriginal inhabitation of the Port Gamble area. This new perspective incorrectly neglects the Suquamish Tribe’s ancient territorial presence in and around Port Gamble Bay dating from time immemorial.

For decades, the PGST and Suquamish have worked together to protect the bay through our respective government-to-government relationships with federal, state and local agencies. 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.

This public denial of Suquamish’s use and occupancy of Port Gamble Bay is perplexing to us, especially since we acknowledge that ancestors of PGST used Port Gamble Bay and the Northern Hood Canal seasonally in pre-Treaty times. PGST’s historic roots in the area start with their gradual migration from present-day Dungeness, Sequim and Port Angeles to work at the Port Gamble Mill on Point Julia after Pope and Talbot finished building it in 1854.

PGST’s recent media campaign to overstate their aboriginal presence in the Port Gamble area is disconcerting because there is no history presently to support their claim. The Suquamish can no longer stand on the sidelines and allow such flagrant re-writing of history to go unchallenged.

Ethnographic records of the north Kitsap region expose the inaccuracies of PGST’s recent media statements regarding the Suquamish use and occupation of Port Gamble Bay and vicinity. These records, gathered in the early 1900s by non-Indian scholars to understand and preserve Indian use and occupation of the area, not only dispel PGST’s claims but unmistakably reaffirm Suquamish’s long presence and influence in this area.

T.T. Waterman, a University of Washington anthropologist who interviewed Suquamish elders in 1916, recorded a substantial inventory of Suquamish place names on Port Gamble Bay. Waterman’s Suquamish informants started out by correcting historian Edmond Meany’s prior erroneous assignment of the name “Teekalet” to the site of the Port Gamble Mill that persisted for decades. The elders told Waterman that the Suquamish name “dexqilT” (anglicized as Teekalet) refers to the bluffs west of the mill site and translated to “place of skunk cabbage.” The actual name for the mill site they said was “QeQlaXad,” a Suquamish word meaning “fence.” They said the Suquamish name for Point Julia was “sdeu’wap,” which means “broad daylight” and is the site of the historic S’Klallam settlement known as “Little Boston.” Meany erroneously referred to the mill site as “Teekalet” and defined it as meaning “place of the noonday sun,” a double switch of impressive proportion.

Waterman’s Suquamish informants also identified Suquamish place names for features between present-day Port Gamble Bay and Foulweather Bluff and names for present-day Cliffside, Coon Bay, Skunk Bay, Twin Spits, Point-No-Point and Foulweather Bluff. Ironically, in 1841, Commandant George Wilkes gave the name “Suquamish Head” to Foulweather Bluff in honor of the people he found living there during his United States surveying expedition and “Suquamish Head” is referred to by name in the preamble of the S’Klallam’s 1855 Treaty of Point-No-Point, identifying the place where the parties signed their treaty. These places have carried Suquamish names since ancient times, substantiating the Suquamish people’s familiarity with the flora, fauna and geologic forms of Port Gamble Bay and indicating our long use of and association with the Port Gamble region.

PGST also perpetuates the notion that there existed an ancient S’Klallam village at the mill site. We are unaware of any ethnographic or current archaeological evidence of a permanent PGST winter village at the town of Port Gamble yet in these articles the writers continuously reference an “ancestral Port Gamble village.” Letters written during the establishment of the mill there demonstrate that the area was not the site of a winter village.

For example, on Sept. 4, 1853, a month after landing at Port Gamble, mill founder W.C. Talbot wrote a letter to his partner Charles Foster saying there was no Tribal settlement or village at the original mill site, noting “there are no Indians staying here it is a disputed territory there are four tribes claiming it but none of these daring to stay on it. Only coming + trading + and sometimes staying two days.”

Seven months later, on March 4, 1854, another Port Gamble mill partner, Josiah Keller, wrote about the nature of the settlement around the mill site, stating, “Have a store - blacksmith shop - cook house - potatoe house (half in the ground) and the house which we occupy — which with sundry Indian lodges & the hovel for a pair of brutes (about as decent as the latter inside and out) constitutes quite a village — we are now to build another boarding house.” These accounts describe a place known to and seasonally used by the Tribes in the region, most likely the Suquamish, Twana, Chemakum and S’Klallam. Port Gamble was not occupied prior to 1853 when it became the site of a typical early mill settlement of the mid-1850s comprised of mill owners, Euro-American workers and workers from a number of Tribes.

The Suquamish Tribe is committed to preserving the history of our homelands, including the accurate accounting and acknowledgement of our presence in Port Gamble Bay. The fact is supported and present in the historical record and should be recognized publicly. To disregard it is a disservice to our heritage.

— Leonard Forsman has served as chairman of the Suquamish Tribe since 2005, and has served on the Tribal Council for more than 20 years. Formerly the director of the Suquamish Museum, he has a B.A in anthropology from the University of Washington and an M.A. in historical preservation from Goucher College.

— See also a response from Port Gamble S'Klallam Chairman Jeromy Sullivan, "Sullivan defends S'Klallam's history at Port Gamble."


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