READ ANY GOOD books lately? There’s a new one out that should interest anyone looking to learn about the history of the Olympic Peninsula.
“Our Land: Quileute Territory,” was written by Jay Powell, Ph.D., and published by the Quileute Tribe in 2022. The book is a landmark study of the Quileute traditional territory and history from their creation to the present that exemplifies the phrase that “history is written by the victors.”
Generations of conquering American historians have illustrated their versions of this timeless observation by repeating the same tired fables. The most prominent of which was that the Tribes of the Northwest Coast were a maritime people who seldom, if ever, ventured inland.
The historian Murray Morgan said in his history of the Olympic Peninsula, “The Last Wilderness,” that the “Quinault, Makah, Clallam and Quileute looked for their living from the sea and beach. A man who ventured into the forest was called, ‘the Fool’.” This naïve characterization ignores the fact that streams and landmarks deep in the Olympics have Indian names. How could the Indians name a place they never went?
“Our Land: Quileute Territory,” presents an alternative view.
For example, it was said the tribes did not own land, ignoring the fact that tribes fought over territory.
The ancient legend about the battle between the Clallam and the Quileute being buried under a landslide between Lake Crescent and Lake Sutherland, the story of the Quileute launching a hundred war canoes against the Nittinats and the battles between the Clallam and Quinault up the Elwha tells us these tribes owned land and fought to keep it.
The Quileute owned from Cape Alava east to the summit of Boulder Peak, then Southwest to their allies the Hoh Tribe on the Hoh River.
Anyone from another tribe who trespassed on this land was punished by death or capture.
Families owned fishing sites, berry patches and the prairies where fern roots and camas bulbs were gathered. Families would have to give a potlatch to maintain ownership of these food resources.
The Quileute River is comprised of the Dickey, Sol Duc, Bogachiel and Calawah Rivers. The Quileute people had villages, fishing camps, burial grounds and spiritual sites along the lengths of these streams.
Their relations, the Hoh Tribe, utilized the entire Hoh and the South Fork of the Hoh watersheds.
The prairies along these rivers illustrate another misconception — that the tribes did not employ agriculture. But these prairies were maintained by fire so that camas could be cultivated and harvested.
The idea that Indians did not own land was initially spread by European homesteaders, known as the Hokwat, who forced the Quileute from their inland villages because they didn’t file a homestead claim on what was their ancestral land.
At the time, Native Americans could not file a homestead claim because they were not American citizens.
Similarly, the Quileute were forced from their upriver fishing stations when a law was passed saying they had to get fishing licenses, which they could not do since these first Americans were not Americans at the time.
They were declared wards of the federal government.
As it turns out, “Our Land: Quileute Territory” was written by victors. The Quileute are continuing to regain their land, their culture and natural resources lost in the last 300 years through the contact with Russians, English, Spanish and American invaders and the subsequent ravages of colonization, epidemics, Isaac Stevens, the 1864 Homestead Act, Dan Pullen, the Industrial Revolution, Residential Schools, the State of Washington and the BIA.
The publication of “Our Land: Quileute Territory” is a victory in itself.
Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.
He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via email@example.com.