Charles re-elected as chair of Lower Elwha tribe

PORT ANGELES — Frances Charles has been re-elected as chairwoman of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe.

Tribal members resoundingly endorsed Charles, who received 111 of 176 votes cast in the five-person election.

Russell Hepfer, who was re-elected to the Tribal Council earlier this month, had 45 votes. No other council member had more than 8 votes.

All five members of the Tribal Council were automatically entered into the election for tribal chair. A tribal chair is selected from the council every year.

As tribal chairwoman, Charles has an influential voice with local, state and federal lawmakers.

Charles said the biggest issues facing the tribe in the coming year will be the Elwha River dam removal project, the housing of artifacts from the Tse-whit-zen village, the future of the former Rayonier mill property and state and federal budget cuts.

Tse-whit-zen and the Rayonier site are both on the Port Angeles waterfront.

The tribe will once again host a stopover for the Tribal Canoe Journey this summer.

“We have a busy plate,” Charles said.

The $327 million National Park Service project to remove the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams will begin with a Sept. 17 kickoff ceremony.

The project is intended to free the river and provide habitat to a legendary salmon run that was blocked when the dams were built a century ago.

The restoration project is the sum of dozens of smaller projects, including a new tribal fish hatchery west of Port Angeles.

The Lower Elwha Klallam tribe wants to build a facility to house artifacts from its Tse-whit-zen village on Marine Drive in Port Angeles. The artifacts were uncovered when the state Department of Transportation tried and failed to build a graving yard to construct components to replace the eastern half of the Hood Canal Bridge.

Charles said the Lower Elwha Klallam and other tribes are facing “a lot of challenges” from budget cuts. She said she will work to save programs for tribal youth and drug and alcohol and domestic violence prevention.

The five members of the Lower Elwha Tribal Council are Charles, Hepfer, Ed Johnson, Joseph Turrey and Anthony Charles.

Charles, 51, has been chairwoman several times throughout her 17 years on the council.

She held the post from 1994 to 1996 and was elected again in 2004.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at [email protected]

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