By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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PORT ANGELES –– After centuries underground and a decade at the University of Washington, some of the artifacts from the Tse-whit-zen village are coming home.
“It's been a long journey and a long task for us,” Lower Elwha Klallam Tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles said.
Artifacts from the 2,700-year-old Klallam village on the Port Angeles waterfront were exhumed and archived after first being unearthed in August 2003.
A selection from the 900 boxes of artifacts dug up from Tse-whit-zen and held at the Burke Museum at University of Washington were recently put on display in Seattle as part of the Burke's exhibit on the Elwha River dam removal project.
Come July 12, artifacts like blanket pins, spear points and the comb that garnered worldwide attention will be displayed at the Elwha Klallam Heritage Center at 401 E. First St., the first time they will be exhibited on the North Olympic Peninsula.
The free exhibit will be permanent.
“Knowing that they're coming home, it's . . . it's surreal,” Suzie Bennett, manager of the heritage center.
“I feel so blessed that I got to take part in this.”
Tse-whit-zen, at the base of Ediz Hook west of downtown Port Angeles, is the biggest Native American village to be found in the state since the Makah's Ozette village was unearthed in the 1970s.
Contractors preparing an onshore dry dock to build concrete pontoons for repairs to the Hood Canal Bridge first found artifacts and human bones at the site in August 2003.
By the fall of 2004, more than 330 intact burials and 80,000 significant artifacts had been uncovered.
Never expecting to uproot a major burial ground, the increasing number of ancestral discoveries led to heightened tensions between the leaders of the Lower Elwha and the state Department of Transportation workers.
The tribe forced a stop to the dry dock project in December 2004. By then the state had spent more than $60 million on the project.
"The ancestors here are so powerful: These old souls live," said tribal spiritual adviser Mary Anne Thomas, from the Esquimalt Nation in Canada. "Let the cemetery remain a cemetery, because it is alive down at that site."
Tse-whit-zen has been called one of the richest finds of ancient Native American objects in the state, perhaps in the Northwest and the nation.
Fifteen items from the Burke will be displayed alongside 15 items the tribe has held in its local collection.
Under an agreement between tribal, federal and state authorities, the artifacts were entrusted to the state to hold until the Lower Elwha could build a museum to display them.
The tribe has taken many of its elders and children to see the display of their forebearers' tools and possessions in Seattle, Charles said.
“Now they'll have the opportunity to go to our heritage center to take a look at the artifacts that are so beautiful and unique any time,” she added.
Charles said having the artifacts home will help connect the tribe's children to their heritage.
“This is something that they research, they study in their educational programs,” Charles said.
“It's very important to us to instill that humility, that respect in our children for their culture and their heritage.”
Plans for a full tribal museum are still in the development stage.
The artifacts will be displayed in metal-and-glass cases that last displayed Peruvian art from the Tse-whit-zen era at the Seattle Art Museum last winter.
“It really will give you an intimate look into what the Klallam people were like,” Bennett said.
On Valentine's Day, the tribe purchased the display cases, which the Seattle Art Museum had decided to sell after the closure of the Peru exhibit.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at email@example.com.