CHIMACUM — “Terminated. Administratively removed.” Those words were laid on a group of people.
Even now, various internet sources call the Chemakum tribe “virtually extinct” and “near extinct.”
Rosalee Walz and her tribe know better. So do Brian Goodman and his artist colleagues.
This Thursday, the public will have an opportunity to see the evidence at the Chimacum School Commons, 91 West Valley Road, where a large-scale photography exhibit now lives.
“Still Here: Portraits of the Chemakum” has arrived, and will open to the public from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday. Admission is free; two more public viewings are slated for noon to 2 p.m. April 23 and May 28.
The show encompasses 25 black-and-white portraits, each 44 inches by 66 inches in size.
Walz, a member of the Woodman Chemakum family who grew up in Port Townsend, puts it all in context.
“Our Creation Story, the Quileute Creation Story, tells that a very long time ago Quileute People were changed from Wolves by a transformer. They are said to have once inhabited all of the north Olympic Peninsula,” she writes in the companion book to the “Still Here” exhibit.
“Centuries later brought a great flood of the Pacific Ocean, which carried some Quileute across the Olympic Peninsula to what became known as Chemakum Territory. The new homelands of these Quileute, now Chemakum People, extended from Hood Canal to Discovery Bay, and inland into Beaver and Center valleys,” Walz writes.
“Chemakum People were nearly wiped out by war, in particular a massacre led by Sealth in 1847, yet in 1855 Chemakum tribal leaders signed the Treaty of Point No Point along with leaders of the S’Klallam and Skokomish Tribes.”
Yet today, “we remain. We are here on the land of our ancestors. Q’Lash, Chemakum Grandfather, and Tammoe, S’Klallam Grandmother, lift us up,” she adds.
“We are your neighbors; many graduated from Chimacum High School. We are veterans, skilled craftspeople, artists, caregivers, nurses, sailors, contractors, carvers, fishers, farmers, business owners and writers. One among us is a Ph.D. mathematician.”
Today her people are actively pursuing the dream of a longhouse in the land of their ancestors, Walz notes.
“We follow our vision to restore our history, preserve our sacred link to the land for cultural and sustenance purposes through seven generations. And beyond.”
Each year, the Chemakum people reunite. In July 2021, they gathered at H.J. Carroll County Park and invited Goodman and his group of photographers, the League of Extraordinary Observers (LEO), to make portraits.
“I set up an outdoor photo studio. Those who wanted to be photographed came over to the tent,” Goodman recalled.
This was an extraordinary moment, not unlike a wedding.
“You don’t get a second chance,” he said.
Kerry Tremain, another LEO member, was at the park that day too.
“The family was incredibly welcoming and kept expressing their gratitude,” he said, adding that elder Ronald Meyer helped break down the studio and carry all the equipment back to the trailer.
“As soon as Brian started making prints, we knew we had something wonderful,” Tremain added.
The LEO members, who also include Tim Lawson and Robert Tognoli, met with Chimacum School District Superintendent Scott Mauk and Chimacum Junior/Senior High School principal Kim Kooistra about mounting a show.
“They’ve been wonderful,” Tremain said of the school officials.
The photographers and Chemakum family members also worked with the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship’s Native Connections Group and Chimacum History Group, and with Northwind Art, the nonprofit publisher of the “Still Here” book. The $20 paperback is available at Northwind’s Jeanette Best Gallery and Grover Gallery, both in downtown Port Townsend.
The portraits “are so stunning,” Walz, who lives in Seattle, said in an interview as she awaited the Edmonds-Kingston ferry on Monday. The photographers were wholehearted in their work, she added.
As for the show, “I just can’t tell you how it lifts us up.”
A few members of Walz’ Chemakum family have moved away, she said, but they attend reunions, greeting the youngsters and the elders — the beloveds who appear in these portraits.
“Like salmon coming home, we all come back,” she said.
When the photography exhibit opens Thursday, “it will be a day of healing.”
Jefferson County Senior Reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]