By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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“We've done this for our youth, and for our elders, and for or community and for all of you,” Tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles told the 80 to 90 people who gathered at the Elwha Klallam Heritage Center, 401 E. Front St.
“I raise my hands up to all of you, especially to the previous [tribal] council and the elders for being there with us when we needed to have that guidance."
Members of the Elwha Drum Group sang and played, their Klallam words of welcome and steady drum beats echoing in the heritage center's main gallery.
The items now on permanent display at the center include a bone comb carved with two cormorants, a ring, two blanket pins carved to resemble a fawn and a halibut, stone fishing net weights, bone hooks, harpoon points and a spindle whorl carved from a whale vertebra.
“It was a great day for everyone," Charles said after the ceremonies. "And we're just really honored and humbled to complete the process of bringing our artifacts back home where they belong.”
Pronounced “chwheet-son” and meaning “inner harbor” in Klallam, the village was occupied for at least 2,700 years.
It was rediscovered in 2003 during work along Marine Drive to build a dry dock for construction of concrete pontoons to repair the Hood Canal Bridge. Tse-whit-zen has been called one of the largest and most significant archaeological sites in Washington state. Archaeologists exhumed the remains of 335 people and 80,000 artifacts; the discoveries ultimately led to the construction project being shut down at the request of the tribe in December 2004.
Charles and other tribal members brought the 14 artifacts from the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington in Seattle last week. Others remain in storage at the Burke and have yet to be analyzed.
Admission to the heritage center is free. The items sit in six display cases in the heritage center's main gallery, displayed on pieces of the longhouse built by tribal members in the 1970s that once stood in Port Angeles' Lincoln Park.
Russell Hepfer, vice chairman of the tribe, was one of many tribal members who worked during excavations at the Tse-whit-zen site.
“I was down in the dirt with my ancestors, and it was real emotional, and some of the things I seen really made me stop and think,” Hepfer said.
He said he was thankful Saturday for at least some of the artifacts to be home.
“Right now, I'm really, really proud to be a member of my tribe,” he said.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.