Quinault Indian Nation

Quinault Indian Nation

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The Quinault people reside on a reservation of 189,621 acres in northwestern Grays Harbor County, along Washington's coast. The word Quinault evolved from kwi'nail, the name of the tribe's largest settlement once situated at present-day Taholah, at the mouth of the Quinault River. Taholah is the heart of the Quinault Indian Nation.The original Quinault flourished with access to good fishing (especially salmon and steelhead), hunting, berry picking and wood gathering. Lewis and Clark, on their famed trek to the Pacific Ocean, noted that the craft were "...upward of 50 feet long, and will carry 8,000 to 10,000 pounds' weight, of from 20 to 30 persons...."The Quinault people remained isolated from European contact until they visited the Spanish vessel Sanora in their canoes on July 13, 1775. Industry followed homesteading as whites began to tap the area's natural resources. Although the Quinault were initially friendly and helped their new white neighbors, increasing numbers of pioneers arrived with their radically different ways, which created friction.To accommodate land-hungry whites, Washington territorial governor and Indian agent Isaac Stevens drew up a treaty for the Indians to sign, that said that they would relinquish almost all the coastal area of Washington. Because the land chosen was poor, Indian leaders balked and the first treaty was never inked.Later, a new treaty was drawn up that the Indians did sign, on January 25, 1856. In exchange, the Quileute, Queets, Hoh, and Quinault gave up all the lands north of Gray's Harbor up to the homeland of the Makah tribe. The treaty commission's intent was to concentrate numerous coastal tribes onto this reservation. To accommodate that many additional Indians, the reservation was expanded to nearly 200,000 acres by an order of President Ulysses S. Grant on November 4, 1873. The new dimensions have remained to this day, and with the same boundaries.As a result of the General Allotment Act of February 8, 1887, whose spirit was to encourage an agrarian life among Indians, allotments of land to individual Indians on the Quinault Reservation were made, beginning in 1905. There was virtually no land held in common after that.In 1917, World War I efforts spurred the Bureau of Indian Affairs to commence clearcutting on the Quinault Reservation, which left behind much useless debris. Years later, the tribe would attempt to reclaim the acreage for regrowth.In 1934, an important piece of legislation was passed by Congress. Among other things, its purpose was to:

  • conserve and develop Indian lands and resources;
  • extend to Indians the right to form businesses and other organizations;
  • establish a credit system for Indians;
  • grant certain rights of home rule to Indians; and
  • provide vocational education.

The Quinault voted to come under the provisions of the act. In 1935, they adopted a new constitution that assigned decision-making power to a business committee.For lands relinquished under the terms of the Quinault River Treaty, the Quinault, Queet, Quileute and Hoh tribes had each received $25,000, as provided by the document. Nearly a century later, the Indian Claims Commission determined that the four tribes had 688,000 acres as of March 8, 1858, and had been grossly undercompensated. In a compromise with the Quinaults and Queets tribes, the commission leveled a judgment against the United States of $205,172.40 on June 25, 1962. The money was awarded on April 17, 1973.

See Indian Wars Time Table.
See also Native American Cultural Regions map.

Meet the Quinault Indian Nation

As the title of my blog suggests, I will be focusing on the history and culture of the Quinault Indian Nation. Also known as the Canoe People or the people of the cedar tree for their extensive use of this resource, the Quinault Indian Nation (QIN) lives on the land that has been occupied by their people for thousands of years. I have been fortunate enough to visit the reservation several times because of it’s close proximity to Olympia. The QIN reservation is located in the Southwest corner of the Olympic Peninsula and includes forest, sandy beaches, and rocky cliffs. To get a brief understanding of the QIN, I want to first talk about who they have been in the past, and then I will provide a glimpse of who they are in the present.

25,000 years ago, the Olympic Peninsula was covered by a great glacier and ruled by wooly mammoth. When the ice began to melt 12,000 years ago, people moved into the amazingly productive land that was left behind (Sampson). These people were the Quinault, which referred to any of the multiple groups of people living within the Quinault River Watershed (Sampson). The people had access to plenty, living on a diet of plants, sea mammals, wildlife from the forest, food received through trade, and of course, salmon. They used forest plants for medicine and lived in longhouses constructed along the many rivers that crisscrossed the land.

Today, the conglomerate QIN refers to people who can prove ¼ combined heritage of any of seven peninsula tribes or has been adopted into the nation. The seven tribes that can claim Quinault heritage are the Quinault and Queets tribes, plus the Quileute, Hoh, Chehalis, Chinook, and Cowlitz. The QIN directly owns 208,150 acres of their ancestral land, which includes beautiful conifer forests, lakes, and 23 miles of untouched Pacific shoreline located in the Southwest corner of the Olympic Peninsula, right here in our own Washington State (Sampson). The gem of the Quinault land is Lake Quinault, a massive freshwater lake covering 3,729 acres and allowing access to 12 miles of freshwater shoreline right next to the ocean. To manage all of these resources, the QIN is one of the largest employers in Grays Harbor County. People work at the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino, Quinault Pride Seafood, Land and Timber, the Maritime Resort, and the Mercantile. The QIN is a sovereign nation which operates under laws written in 1922, as well as the Constitution written in 1975. They are governed by a General Council and by the Quinault Business Committee (Sampson).

An aspect of Quinault culture that defines them today is their participation in the Canoe Journey. This yearly event began in 1989 when Quinault Tribal Elder Emmet Oliver proposed a canoe trip as a way to revitalize their culture, recover from substance addiction, and mourn their dead (Kajans). It was based off of another canoe trip, historically called the Paddle to Seattle, where many coastal tribes paddle to Seattle in canoes carved in the traditional way. When the Canoe Journey began, barely 20 canoes participated from across the coastline, from Washington to Alaska. Today, the Canoe Journey draws observers from all over the world to watch as more than 100 canoes and 10,000-15,000 tribal members travel to the host nation to participate in a week-long Potlach celebration (Kajans). The QIN participates yearly and hosts often, the most recent being in 2002 and again in 2013. This year, the Canoe Journey was hosted by the Squaxin Island Tribe, right here in Olympia.

I feel that a good example of a Quinault creation story is the Legend of Father Ocean as told by Clarence Pickernel. This story describes how Washington State was created. As it goes, a long time ago in the time of the animal people, all of Washington was flat and green. There were no mountains, lakes, or rivers, but the animals had everything they needed. Then, god became angry with the animal people and sent a great drought which turned the land brown. The animals held a council in the East, where Bear decided to ask the ocean for help. Coyote walked to the ocean and asked for help, which the ocean freely gave. Ocean sent his sons and daughters, the clouds, across the land to provide water. Ocean told Coyote that he would help as long as his children were never harmed. Crow quickly became greedy and convinced the other animals to try to capture the water, so the animal people dug lakes. The clouds perished trying to fill the lakes with water, and when Coyote confessed to Ocean what had happened to his children, Ocean asked the god Whinee-whinee (I did my best with spelling there) to punish the animal people. The god scooped up a handful of earth and scattered it across the land, creating the Cascade and Olympic Mountains, and the Puget Sound from the hole he left. Now, the animal people to the East of the mountains suffer because they have no water, and the Ocean calls for his children to return to this day.

The Quinault's Quest&#151Land&People

A little before five in the evening, the line begins to form at the Quinault Beach Resort on Washington's Olympic Peninsula. It is seniors night—three dollars off Chef Doug's home-style dinner buffet—and diners begin arriving early in the resort's lobby, its walls hung with historic photographs of Quinault people.

Outside, wetlands spread with lupine, beach pea, and buttery iris separate the resort from a sandy beach. Inside, lit by a shaft of late-afternoon light from a nearby window and all but unnoticed by the gathering diners, two men and a woman huddle at a table over a glowing pair of laptop computers. They are as intent as teenaged gamers, except that their clicking fingers call forth not cops or robbers or soldiers or sorcerers, but timber stands, elk migration routes, salmon spawning habitat, and shoreline development.

"That's the Queets River. See all that alder?" Tony Hartrich points to a splash of red on a computerized map of the Quinault Indian Nation (QIN), north of the resort: 23 miles of spectacular coastline and more than 208,000 acres of the greenest, dampest, and most productive forestlands in the U.S.

As the manager of the QIN's Geographic Infor-mation Systems (GIS) program, Hartrich supplied much of the data displayed on the computerized map. With him are Breece Robertson and Woody Duncan, of The Trust for Public Land's GIS greenprinting program, who developed the computer models on which the map is based. The next day, in a resort meeting room, the three GIS experts will give the QIN tribal council its first look at a computerized modeling and mapping system commissioned by the Quinault and more than two years in the making.

"They get to see where all their resources fit together, and we want to get it right," Breece Robertson says.

TPL devised its prize-winning "greenprinting" approach to GIS modeling and mapping as a decision-support tool for communities seeking to conserve land. Using the approach, a community designates priorities for conservation—such as watershed and wildlife habitat protection, trail creation, farmland preservation, or parks for underserved populations. Greenprint maps display opportunities for conservation based on those priorities, which can be weighted and reweighted in the maps and models according to what the community decides. In the last several years, TPL has completed more than 40 greenprints.

But the greenprint for the Quinault is in a class by itself. It is the first greenprint for a sovereign Indian nation—the first attempt to bring this modern, technological way of understanding a place to a community whose practical and spiritual knowledge of that place dates back to a time before history. And the circumstances of the plan are unique: it grew out of a 130-year-old land dispute that led to the restoration of more than 11,000 acres to the reservation.

Furthermore, the kinds of resources analyzed in the Quinault Greenprint differ from those targeted by greenprints for urban, suburban, or other rural environments, as do its goals. This nation of nearly 3,000 enrolled members—most living in two coastal villages, Taholah and Queets—is deeply rooted in the land and dependent on its natural resources, particularly forests and fisheries. Yet the nation actually owns less than a third of its reservation's acreage, largely as a result of 19th- and early-20th-century government land policy that caused many parcels to be allotted or sold into private hands. This makes it very difficult for tribal government to manage resources strategically for the long-term benefit of both the resources and tribal members.

"You can imagine what a nightmare it was having over 200,000 acres of land allotted," says Pearl Capoeman-Baller, former president of the QIN Business Council and advisory council member of TPL's Tribal & Native Lands program, a partner in the greenprinting effort. "You can't manage land when it's in bits and pieces," Capoeman-Baller adds.

So the Quinault Greenprint seeks to help the nation understand not only how its natural and cultural resources might be protected and managed, but also which lands within the reservation's boundary might be restored to tribal control after years of land loss.

A Historic Land Dispute

On the morning the greenprint is to be presented to the tribal council, tribal members David Martin and Jim Campbell pilot a pair of pickups into an ever-ascending, ever-narrowing maze of dirt and gravel roads above the Quinault River valley, 30 miles from the coast at the northern edge of the reservation. Campbell is forestry manager for the nation's Division of Natural Resources. Martin is general manager of Quinault Land and Timber Enterprise, a tribally owned business. This morning they are guiding a tour for the TPL greenprint team and other visitors who have come to the reservation for the presentation.

At a roadside clearing, the group clambers out of the trucks. Sweeping views open up across a radically up-and-down landscape dressed in Pacific silver fir, Douglas fir, and Western hemlock. Here and there on the dark hillsides, geometric shapes in a lighter shade of green mark the sites of former timber harvests. Other, darker, patches are dressed in old growth and will now stay that way forever.

The roots and goals of the Quinault Greenprint are bound up in the long and torturous history of land loss on the reservation—and in a long-festering dispute over a 15,000-acre parcel in what is known as the "north-boundary" area. Owing to what might generously be described as a "surveying error" (the land ended up with a member of the surveyor's family), the parcel was left out of an 1873 reservation enlargement, despite falling within the designated boundaries. Located north and west of Lake Quinault, a large lake on the Quinault River, it includes ?at land along the lake as well as steep, remote old-growth forestlands that eventually became part of Olympic National Forest. Also included in the parcel were bottomland groves of cedar—huge trees of the sort traditionally used for building canoes.

Over more than a century, the nation never gave up hope that this land would be added to the reservation. Meanwhile, the federal government had instituted policies that would lead to further loss of Native American lands. The General Allotment Act of 1887, also known as the Dawes Act, divided reservation land among tribal members, ostensibly for farming. Land that was not allotted was sold off to homesteaders, and much of the allotted land was eventually sold to whites or inherited by a non-Indian spouse, or its ownership divided among dozens (sometimes hundreds) of descendents of the original allottees. Within 45 years of the Dawes Act, Native Americans nationwide lost nearly two-thirds of the land that they had reserved for themselves by treaty. On the Quinault Reservation, more than 30 percent of the land was lost to the nation in this way, often ending up in the hands of private timber companies.

Beginning in the 1960s, the Quinault Indian Nation began to assert its sovereign right to manage its own resources. In order to do this more efficiently, it began to acquire some of these private lands within the reservation boundaries. But finding funds to consolidate reservation lands was always a problem.

The fate of the north-boundary property became intimately involved with the nation's plans for land acquisition. Over the years since the land was left out of the reservation, the nation had sued and won in court, but had never been offered what it considered a fair settlement for the land. Now the nation hoped that the land would be returned to them so they could manage some of it for timber and use the funds to buy other private parcels, especially in areas key to resource management. In 1988, after long negotiations, Congress transferred the north-boundary land back to the Quinault Nation, which specifically agreed to use timber harvest revenues to buy lands within the reservation borders.

Which is how the story would have ended, had not two feathered species reminded everyone that some of these north-boundary lands were valuable above all else for their natural and habitat values.

Murrelets, Owls, and an Easement for the North Boundary

"Originally we were going to utilize some of this timber for the benefit of the nation, to help fund our land acquisition program," says David Martin, who was vice president of the nation at the time. But in the early 1990s, the forestland was identified as important habitat for spotted owls and marble murrelets, endangered species dependent on Northwest old-growth forests. "That was where this whole thing got started," Martin says, referring to negotiations that would ultimately lead to a conservation easement on the land.

While the spotted owl became a poster animal for forest conservation, the marbled murrelet is less well known. Feeding many miles out at sea, these small, football-shaped, black-and-white birds nest in the north-boundary old growth, torpedoing up the canyons to their nest sites on short stubby wings each night. The discovery of the birds put an end to the nation's plans to harvest portions of the north-boundary area—if only because it would have been inconsistent with their own long-term efforts to be good stewards of the land.

"The north-boundary easement was the biggest headache in my entire life," says Pearl Capoeman-Baller, then tribal chair. While the nation wanted to see the land protected, it also wanted to recover the value it felt it was owed by being deprived of the land for more than 130 years. A preservation agreement—an easement—would reimburse the nation for the land's protection. "But this was easier said than done," says Capoeman-Baller. Many questions needed to be resolved, including how much a conservation easement across the land might be worth. Repeatedly Capoeman-Baller sent David Martin back to Washington for negotiations, to no avail.

In March 1999, the Department of the Interior and the Quinault Nation asked TPL for help. "TPL understood what we were trying to do," says Capoeman-Baller. Fully six years later, in 2005, TPL, QIN, and the federal government negotiated an easement to protect the largest nonpublic block of old-growth forest west of the Cascade Mountains, at last resolving a dispute that had begun during the administration of Ulysses S. Grant.

"Everyone benefits," then-interior secretary Gale Norton said at the time. "The public gets conservation of sensitive forest habitat for a threatened species. The Quinault retain sovereignty over their land and gain support for their economic development. And Interior fulfills its responsibilities for tribal development and conservation of threatened species."

"Resolving the northern boundary dispute was one of the more challenging projects I have worked on in my years in Congress," says Congressman Norm Dicks, who worked tirelessly in support of the settlement. "Never-theless, resolving the dispute was critically important for natural resource management as well as for assuring equitable compensation for the tribe. In the end we were able to protect the old-growth habitat along the border through this settlement, which resolved the longstanding dispute and provided fair compensation to the Quinault Tribe."

A Greenprint for the Quinault

Settling the north-boundary dispute left the Quinault with a payment, a problem, and a potential partner in TPL. The $32.2 million the tribe received as part of the agreement, a portion of which was raised privately by TPL, will help buy back private lands within the reservation. But which lands should be acquired for sustainable timber harvesting, fisheries protection, conservation of cultural resources, and economic development? Over the years, the nation had collected a lot of data about reservation resources, but it had no way of visualizing that data or weighing the relative importance of difference resources on different sections of land. Perhaps most important, it had no way of visualizing nontribal landownership on the reservation, or how such ownership overlapped land that might be acquired for resource protection and management.

As TPL staff learned about the nation's needs and goals, it became clear that GIS greenprinting could provide the models and maps they needed to visualize reservation resources and acquisition opportunities. Under contract with the nation, TPL also furnished tribal members with training in acquisition real estate and legal skills, as well as an online database of additional public and private funding sources that might be available for tribal land acquisition.

"This partnership is not just about getting the nation the compensation due for the north boundary property," TPL senior vice president Bowen Blair told the tribal council before the greenprint presentation. "It's also about training, and the greenprint, and funding. It's about protecting culture, conservation, and economic development."

At the presentation, Breece Robertson stood before a screen showing an ever-changing map of the reservation. Colors spread along the coast, up the river bottoms, over the mountains, showing lands necessary for timber, wildlife habitat, water quality, and salmon habitat. In all, the Quinault Greenprint includes 43 separate models in eight categories. "We took what you told us was important to you and your reservation and translated it into the GIS framework," Robertson said.

Later, meeting attendees stood in turn to thank the tribal and TPL GIS experts. "The creator gave us air, land, and water," said Chuck Sams, director of TPL's Tribal & Native Lands program. "We have a covenant to protect, preserve, and enhance those gifts."

Years of work lie ahead for the Quinault as they work to rebuild their land base for the future. But it will be worth the effort, as Pearl Capoeman-Baller told the group. "The whole goal of this work is the preservation of this land. You can't think in 20 years, you can't think in 50 years. We have to think longer than that if we are going to preserve this land for our children."

10 Things You Should Know About the Quinault Nation

The lifeblood of the land starts at about 6,200 feet in the Olympic Mountains and flows 69 miles to the Pacific Ocean, picking up 115 inches of rain that nourishes 118 square miles.

The cycle has not changed much here since the beginning of time. Blueback salmon, unique to this place, return to snowmelt-swollen rivers and streams. Cedars, aromatic and rain-nourished, supply the people with fiber for clothing and baskets, and wood for canoes and paddles and other objects both ceremonial and utilitarian.

“We are bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean, an international boundary,” Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp said. “We have 31 miles of pristine beaches. We have the lake, rainforest, mountains, ocean, mighty rivers, and streams – it’s a majestic landscape.”

This is the Quinault Nation, known as much by that majestic landscape as it is by its strong traditions, teachings and leadership. Combined, they are what make Quinault Nation a force on environmental issues at home and abroad, as well as an economic development force within and near its borders.

In a discussion with ICMN, some Quinault leaders talked about 10 things everyone should know about the Quinault Nation.

Strong traditional leadership: Fawn Sharp is the ninth elected leader of the Quinault Nation since the Treaty of Quinault was signed in 1855. In contrast, the United States has had 31 – soon to be 32 – presidents in that same time frame. And two of Quinault’s presidents have been female – Sharp and her predecessor, Pearl Capoeman-Baller.

Leaders, while elected, 𠇎merge from within our citizenry,” Sharp said. You don’t get elected by campaigning you get elected because you’ve been mentored, you’ve sought the teachings, you live the culture and know the treaty, and you care about what’s in the general citizenry’s best interests.

Those in leadership �re deeply about our collective interests,” Sharp said.

Sharp said roughly one-fourth of Quinault’s citizenry participates in the general council meeting, the occasion of Tribal Council elections. Quinault citizens who live on or off the reservation can vote, but you have to live on the reservation to serve on the Tribal Council.

Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp awaits the arrival of more canoes during the 2013 Canoe Journey/Paddle to Quinault.

Treaty of Quinault: Thirty-one leaders of the Quinault, Queets and other bands signed the Treaty of Quinault in 1855, making a large swath of the western Olympic Peninsula available for newcomers. But those leaders, among them Tah-ho-lah, were thinking of the seventh generation and beyond. They reserved 208,150 acres – an area larger than the kingdom of Bahrain and nearly five times the size of Washington, D.C. – for their people for all time. They also retained the right to fish and hunt in their historical territory. Several federal court decisions, including U.S. v. Washington (aka the Boldt decision), established the Quinault Nation and other treaty signatories as co-managers, with the state, of the state’s salmon fishery.

Today, there are 3,083 citizens of the Quinault Nation. The reservation has a population of 1,400 and includes Lake Quinault and the communities of Amanda Park, Queets, Quinault Village and Taholah.

A nation of many peoples: The Quinault Reservation was established for the Quinault, Quileute, Queets and Hoh peoples, and later expanded for the Chehalis, Chinook and Cowlitz all but the Chinook later obtained reservations of their own.

“One of the things that’s kept us strong is all of the families stick together,” said Francis Rosander, 83, whose career included service on the Tribal Council in the 1960s, as an associate judge of the Tribal Court, and as a fisherman and fishing guide. “If you need help, somebody’s going to come to your aid.”

The Lady Washington, official tall ship of the State of Washington, escorted canoes during the 2013 Canoe Journey/Paddle to Quinault. Quinault President Fawn Sharp said at the time that, "protocols are being followed which were neglected by tall ships of the past. This could thus be viewed as an opportunity to help make some amends for some past transgressions" and signify the beginning of a collaborative relationship between Native and non-Native peoples.

Largest temperate rainforest: Quinault Nation lands include the largest temperate rainforest in the continental United States. The National Park Service described the rain forest in this picturesque way: 𠇍renched in over 12 feet of rain a year, Olympic&aposs west side valleys flourish with North America&aposs best remaining examples of temperate rain forest. Giant western hemlocks, Douglas firs and Sitka spruce trees dominate the landscape while ferns and moss cloak the trees and forest floor. In these valleys, even the air seems green.”

Several record-size tree species are located here, leading the valley to be known as the "Valley of the Rain Forest Giants."

Genetically distinct salmon: Sockeye salmon native to the Quinault River are, according to the non-profit Wild Salmon Center, one of seven genetically distinct populations of sockeye in the Pacific Northwest. Quinault River sockeye, also known as bluebacks, return from the ocean and spend three to 10 months in Lake Quinault prior to moving on to spawn in the Upper Quinault River. While in the lake, bluebacks subsist on their fat reserves.

“Salmon to the Quinault people is life,” Quinault fisheries manager Ed Johnstone told The Nature Conservancy. “We have a particular species of salmon that’s a sockeye we call it the blueback. I would say that is a cornerstone of who we are.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Quinault lands and lunched at the Lake Quinault Lodge in fall 1937. Clearcutting he saw in the area cemented his decision to create Olympic National Park.

Strong economy: The Quinault Nation is the largest employer in Grays Harbor County. Quinault Nation enterprises include the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino, Quinault Sweet Grass Hotel, Quinault Marina & RV Resort, Quinault Pride Seafood, Quinault Land and Timber, and the Quinault Mercantile. Combined, Quinault Nation and its enterprises are the source of more than 1,200 jobs, according to information from the Grays Harbor Economic Development Council and the Quinault Nation.

𠇏or a lot of years, timber harvesting on our lands was given out to other companies. We weren’t involved,” said Rosander, who serves on the board of the Taala Fund, a certified nonprofit Native Community Development Financial Institution. “We’ve taken that over. We’ve also asserted our off-reservation rights.” Many Quinault people used to fish for subsistence, Rosander said. But now that the Quinaults harvest fish and shellfish throughout their usual and accustomed area, the fishery “provides a pretty substantial income. Marketing has helped a lot.”

He added, “We have a good economy now. In the past, the BIA pretty much ran everything. The tribe has taken over a lot of responsibility from the BIA.”

Rosander said Quinault is well-suited to become a renewable energy producer. He𠆝 like to see Quinault get into carbon tax credits, tidal energy, and wind energy (the Coastal Community Action Program operates a wind farm in nearby Grayland that produces an estimated 13.5 million kWh of energy a year that is sold to a local public utility district).

Quinault Nation artist Guy Capoeman, foreground, coordinated the 2013 Paddle to Quinault – and carved 10 canoes that were gifted during the Canoe Journey potlatch.

Strong voice: As the Quinault Nation has grown in economic and political influence, it has used its strong voice to defend sovereignty and the environment – at home and abroad.

Quinault’s sense of urgency on environmental issues has been influenced in part by the environmental changes it’s seen in its historical territory – changes mirrored elsewhere. Anderson Glacier, which once fed the Quinault River, is gone. Storm surges – caused in part by rising sea levels and intensified storms – have flooded the village of Taholah, forcing the Quinault Nation to develop a comprehensive plan to relocate the village. “Our people must be protected,” Sharp said. “We will take whatever measures are necessary to see that they are.”

That stand applies not only to climate change.

Quinault is a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the FDA’s approval of AquaBounty Technologies’ proposal to create a fast-growing type of salmon made from the genetic material of Atlantic salmon, Pacific salmon and ocean eelpout. Sharp calls it 𠇏rankenfish,” and said the risk of genetically modified salmon escaping and mingling with wild stocks is too high.

Quinault intervened on behalf of the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, asking North Dakota’s governor, the U.S. attorney general and the assistant secretary of the Army to recall the National Guard.

In a statement defending the Standing Rock Sioux and their efforts to protect their lands and water from the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline, Sharp quoted the late Quinault president Joe DeLaCruz: “No right is more sacred to a nation, to a people, than the right to freely determine its social, economic, political and cultural future without external interference. The fullest expression of this right occurs when a nation freely governs itself. We call the exercise of this right self-determination. The practice of this right is self-government.”

Quinault is also an active opponent of the development of an oil export terminal near the Hoquiam River. To all living things, “Water is more powerful than oil,” Sharp said.

A giving people: The Quinault Nation donated much of the timber that was used in the construction of the Longhouse at The Evergreen State College in Olympia. The Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes’ 32-foot canoe was carved from an old-growth cedar donated by Quinault. The Quinault Nation hosted the Canoe Journey in 2002 and 2013. The 2013 Canoe Journey set a standard for potlatching, when Quinault Nation gifted 10 canoes carved by Quinault artist Guy Capoeman in addition, all military veterans were presented with commemorative blankets and hand drums. Quinault hosted more than 100 canoes and 20,000 people during the 2013 Journey, with protocols – gifting and cultural sharing – taking place round the clock for seven days.

Building bridges: The Quinault Nation’s influence has provided opportunities for it to help its non-Native neighbors understand Quinault culture, governance and sovereignty. Quinault Nation sovereignty has not always been readily accepted. When the Quinault Nation closed Lake Quinault to recreational activities while it determined the source of pollution in the lake, a small but very vocal segment of non-Native residents rebelled, questioning the Nation’s jurisdiction over the lake. The Quinault Nation’s jurisdiction was upheld in court.

In other situations, neighbors have been more understanding of the fact that they and the Quinault Nation have common economic, environmental and political concerns.

Sharp spoke to a packed room at a presentation in November at Grays Harbor College. “They were hungry to know more about who the Quinault people are,” Sharp said. “They understand that we’re not at odds with their interests. Their interests are our interests.”

Detail from the story pole, "Fisherman&aposs Dream," which Quinault Nation artist Guy Capoeman carved for the Port Gamble S&aposKlallam Tribe&aposs new Point Hotel.

Prominent Quinaults: Pearl Capoeman-Baller (1954-) is a former president of the Quinault Nation, served as the Nation’s executive director for 13 years, and served as treasurer of the National Tribal Environmental Council. She is vice chairwoman of the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board. According to her health board bio, “Pearl got her start in the political arena as a founding member of the Quinault Teen Council in the late 1960s. They held their own elections, were given seed money, and developed policies that they had to manage. Pearl finished high school, attended college, and then took a position as an administrative secretary for the Nation. At the age of 19, Pearl was elected to serve on the tribal council.”

Guy Capoeman (1969-) is a master carver and former vice president of the Quinault Nation. His public art includes a welcome pole installed at NeCus Park, site of a Clatsop-Nehalem village, in Cannon Beach, Oregon. Capoeman created the welcome in collaboration with the Clatsop-Nehalem Tribe and the City of Cannon Beach. Capoeman coordinated the 2013 Canoe Journey/Paddle to Quinault and carved 14 canoes that were gifted during Canoe Journey protocol.

Randy Capoeman (1956-2008) was a master carver and artist. He continued the art tradition of his grandparents – a master canoe carver and master basket weaver. He created murals, prints and carved poles ranging from 10 to 22 feet in height. His works can be found at the Quinault Nation administration complex, in the BIA Museum, and in galleries and private collections.

Joe DeLaCruz (1937�) was president of the Quinault Nation from 1971-1993, president of the National Tribal Leaders’ Association in 1977, president of the National Congress of American Indiansਏrom 1981-85 and, from 1984 until his passing, chairman of public policy at theꃎnter for World Indigenous Studies. He fought for the inherent right of Native Nations to manage their fisheries and lands and helped write the Centennial Accord, which delineates the principles of the government-to-government relationship between Native Nations and the State of Washington.

Emmett Oliver (1913-2016) launched the modern Canoe Journey in 1989 when he organized the Paddle to Seattle as part of the State of Washington’s Centennial. He was a retired U.S. Coast Guard commander, an educator and coach, and advocate for civil rights. His niece is Cecile Hansen, chairwoman of the Duwamish Tribe. His son, Marvin Oliver, is a prominent Coast Salish sculptor and printmaker, and professor of American Indian Studies and Art at the University of Washington.

Fawn Sharp (1970-) is president of the Quinault Nation and president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. She is also vice president of the National Congress of American Indians. She graduated from Gonzaga University at 19 and earned her law degree at the University of Washington five years later. She served as a state administrative law judge and as chairwoman of the National Commission on Indian Trust Administration and Reform. She was elected to a fourth three-year term as Quinault Nation president in March 2015.

Tah-ho-lah was a mid-19th century Quinault leader, or chief, and the first signer of the Treaty of Quinault, which was signed over two meetings – one at the Quinault River on July 1, 1855, and at Olympia on January 25, 1856. Tah-ho-lah’s daughter, Alice Taholah Jackson, was a noted basket weaver.

This story was published January 30, 2017.

Richard Arlin Walker, Mexican/Yaqui, lives in the Samish homeland of Anacortes, Washington, about 80 miles northwest of Seattle.


Joseph "Joe" Burton DeLaCruz Jr., long-serving president of the Quinault Indian Nation, brought intelligence and charisma to the struggle to bring effective self-governance to his tribe and to Indians across the country. Although his tenure from 1967 to 1993 was not without controversy and criticism, DeLaCruz built a formidable record of accomplishment, tackling such tough and long-standing issues as access to reservation lands by non-Natives, fisheries and logging management, and, perhaps most notably, the status and role of Indian tribes within the American body politic. He was at the forefront of most late-twentieth-century struggles involving the status and rights of Native Americans, among them issues of resource management, education, economic diversity, governance, and tribal culture. While participating in these skirmishes, DeLaCruz never lost sight of what he considered to be the single overarching issue for Native Americans -- giving substance to the concept of tribal sovereignty.

There is not a great deal of detailed information available about DeLaCruz's early life. Depending on which source one consults, he was raised in either Taholah, a small town within the boundaries of the Quinault Indian Reservation, or in Moclips, just outside the reservation's southern border on the Olympic Peninsula's Pacific coast. DeLaCruz himself maintained that although he spent his high school years in Moclips, the family had earlier lived within the reservation in Taholah, just nine miles to the north. In later years the question of his hometown would become fuel for his critics within the Quinault nation.

DeLaCruz was the eldest of 10 children, and at some point his parents owned a small store and restaurant with attached living quarters on the Quinault Reservation. His precise ancestry is as disputed as his place of birth. In later years political enemies would claim that he was at most one-eighth Indian, and had no Quinault blood at all. DeLaCruz was steadfast in asserting that he was fully one-half Indian, with the remaining half being Filipino and white.

Signs of ambition and talent appeared early. He was a four-sport athlete and high-school student-body president, and he earned spending money driving the school bus and working in the local shingle mill. In the summer, he would fish with his grandfather in the Quinault River as their ancestors had done for centuries past. After high school, DeLaCruz spent a two-year hitch in the army in Germany, then attended Portland State University. In 1959 he married Dorothy Lemery, an enrolled member of the Colville Tribe of Eastern Washington, started a family, and went to work for the federal government in Portland.

The Quinault Nation and Its Reservation

A brief condensation of the long and convoluted history of the Quinault Indian Nation's reservation is helpful to an understanding of many of the battles that Joe DeLaCruz took on while leading the tribe. In 1859 Congress ratified the Treaty of Olympia, negotiated with representatives of the Quinault, Hoh, Queets, and Quileute tribes. It set aside 10,000 acres as a reservation for these tribes, centered around the Quinault settlement at Taholah on the ocean coast of the Olympic Peninsula. In 1873 President Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) expanded the reservation to its present size of approximately 220,000 acres. The intent then was that all coastal "fish-eating tribes," including the Chehalis and Chinook, as well as the original signers of the Treaty of Olympia, would be gathered in one reservation.

The Dawes Act, passed by Congress in 1887 authorized the government to give allotments of land to individual tribal members for agricultural or grazing purposes. Any land not so allotted was considered surplus, and could be sold to anyone, including non-Indian individuals or companies. The proceeds from such sales, or from the sale of rights to timber or minerals from the land, were in theory to be administered by the government for benefit the tribes. In practice, a combination of inattention, incompetence, and corruption ensured that this promise, as with so many promises made to Native Americans, went largely unfulfilled.

The situation on the Quinault Reservation was to become more complicated than most. In 1911, Congress allowed non-resident "Hoh, Quileute, Ozette, or other tribes in Washington who are affiliated with the Quinault and Quileute tribes in the treaty" to receive allotments on the Quinault reservation (Chapter 246, 36 Stat. 1345). Then, in 1924, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that allotments could not be limited to agricultural and grazing land, but must also include forested areas (United States v. Payne). This opened to private ownership large areas of valuable land once held in trust, however ineptly, for the tribes. And finally, in 1931, the Supreme Court in Halbert v. United States declared that non-resident Chehalis, Cowlitz, and Chinook Indians also were entitled to allotments. In effect, the Quinault Reservation became the de jure ancestral land of several otherwise-unrecognized tribes whose members often lived nowhere near the reservation and had few if any ties to it.

The court decisions and statutes allowing non-residents to receive allotments, combined with the ruling that opened forest land to private ownership, fueled a land rush on the reservation. During 1933 and 1934, well over 2,000 allotments were granted. Except for a very few acres, all the land within the Quinault Reservation eventually fell into private, albeit largely Native, hands. But even the fact of Native ownership was to prove a temporary state of affairs.

By 1965, through inheritance, sale of allotments by Natives to non-Natives, and the earlier sale of "surplus" land by the U.S. government, approximately 50,000 acres or one-quarter of Quinault Reservation land had devolved into non-Indian ownership, mostly timber companies and real-estate developers. The stage was thus set for years of conflict between the Quinault, the other "fish-eating" tribes deemed part of the "Quinault Nation," non-Indian owners of reservation land, loggers, land developers, and the federal government. This was the stage on which Joe DeLaCruz would soon begin to play a leading part.

Return to the Reservation

People who knew Joe DeLaCruz from his youth had no doubt that he would play an important role in the affairs of the Quinaults. Hank Adams, an Assiniboine-Sioux from Montana who grew up on the Quinault reservation after his mother married a tribal member, was a long-time friend and fellow Indian activist. "Everyone knew he was going to be a leader," Adams recalled. "It just came naturally to him. He had that charisma. He worked well with everyone" (The Seattle Times, April 18, 2000).

And so it was. After seven years working for the government, DeLaCruz and his family returned to the Quinault reservation in 1967 when hereditary chief and tribal president James "Jug" Jackson recognized his talents and convinced him to become the tribe's business manager. He served ably and loyally under Jackson, who relied on DeLaCruz to handle many day-to-day matters and often assigned him the role of tribal spokesman.

Jug Jackson had a finely tuned sense of position and protocol. On one occasion a national television crew wanting to interview him was told by Jackson to "Talk to Joe DeLaCruz, our business manager." A reporter persisted: "You're the president of your tribe, aren't you?" Jackson responded, "Yes, but are you president of your network?" ("Strolling Around," The Seattle Times).

Although DeLaCruz was quick to give Jackson credit, it is probably more than mere coincidence that shortly after he came on board as business manager, tribal authorities started lining up support among its members for a suit against the federal government alleging decades of mismanagement of the reservation's timber resources. The forested land, much of which had been held in supposed trust for the tribe by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was ravaged by clear-cuts. The tribe claimed that the BIA had been selling timber too cheaply and standing idly by while loggers ruined precious fish habitat. Although it took nearly 30 years, the tribe settled its claim in the early 1990s for $26 million. To DeLaCruz, who always had his eye on the bigger picture, the principle trumped the payout. To him, the significance of the victory was that "It laid a path for other tribes throughout the nation to sue the United States government as a trustee" (The Seattle Times, April 4, 1999).

The tribe was soon to take another bold step, one also tinged with DeLaCruz's flair for effective and dramatic action. At 12:01 a.m. on Monday, August 25, 1969, the Quinault Indian Tribal Council closed 25 miles of ocean beaches to non-Indians, an action taken to protest vandalism, theft, and land damage caused by tourists, teenagers, and real-estate developers. Many questioned the legality of the tribe's action at the time, but access remains restricted and controlled by tribal permit to this day (2011).

A Nearly Landless Nation

Chief Jackson was increasingly troubled by health problems, and in 1972, after serving four years as tribal business manager, Joe DeLaCruz was elected president of the Quinault Indian Nation, while Jackson remained hereditary chief until his death in 1999. In his new role, DeLaCruz soon came to prominence on the national stage while skillfully representing his own tribe on a wide range of troubling and long-standing issues.

The question of tribal sovereignty in the Quinault Indian Nation has been fraught practically since the Treaty of Olympia. Despite President Grant's 1873 executive order granting the Quinault Tribe sovereignty over its reservation lands, subsequent allotment and sale greatly complicated matters. Soon after the Supreme Court decided the Halbert case in 1931, nearly all reservation land was allotted, and members of the Chinook Tribe became the largest group of landowners on the Quinault Reservation.

By the time DeLaCruz took over as president, the reservation was well down the road to becoming a complicated patchwork of ownership that brought into question the whole idea of effective tribal sovereignty. By 1990, nearly two-thirds of the reservation was owned outright by individual Natives of various tribes one-quarter was owned by timber corporations and the rest (less than 10 percent) was owned by the Quinault Indian Nation and non-Indians in relatively equal measure. The dilemma facing the Nation was how to assert sovereignty over a reservation that was owned almost in its entirety by non-Quinault persons and entities (many of whom were to later organize as a group called the Quinault Allotees Association). Although the tribe and the association could sometimes cooperate, as in the lawsuit alleging Bureau of Indian Affairs mismanagement of forest lands, they more often were at odds.

Even though it owned little land, the Quinault Indian Nation could exercise the regulatory powers of a sovereign state, and under the leadership of both Jug Jackson and Joe DeLaCruz, the tribe began to exercise those powers with a vengeance. Besides closing ocean beaches to non-residents, it enacted policies to discourage the opening of businesses owned by non-Natives imposed strict zoning requirements to deter large developments halted the development of State Route 109 north of Taholah and defined a curriculum for reservation schools that emphasized Quinault culture and taught the Salishan language.

Fighting for the Forests

One of the tribe's more dramatic assertions of sovereignty came in 1971 during the last months of Jackson's tenure as tribal chairman. Two logging companies, ITT-Rayonier and Aloha Lumber Corporation, had been logging on the reservation since the 1950s under contract with various allotment landowners. The Quinaults were dissatisfied both with the companies' practices and with the prices the owners of the allotments were receiving for logged timber. Negotiations had not been fruitful, and on September 13, 1971, the tribe simply blocked all roads leading to the logging areas, bringing production to a complete halt.

ITT-Rayonier folded rather quickly and reached agreement with the tribe. Aloha Lumber took a little longer, but eventually compromised as well to get the barricades removed from Chow Chow Bridge, which led to its operating area. The tribe gained important concessions on clear-cutting, reforestation, stream protections, and compensation for lumber taken. Of even great importance, the Quinault Nation gained confidence in its ability and strength that would serve it well in battles to come. A later history commissioned by the tribe marked the importance of this action to the Quinault's sense of nationhood and its possibilities:

"The barricade of Chow Chow was a telling confrontation, one that perhaps established the first glimmer of respect in the Bureau [of Indian Affairs], and one that put the Tribe itself on its present course. The confrontation reveals more than any single incident since the Treaty of 1855 that, united, the Quinault Indian Nation can wield its power with wisdom and can absorb and exploit modern technology to enhance the present and future of its citizens. By their physical, yet symbolic actions at the entrance to and on the historic bridge, the new tribal activists put an end to an era and marked an aggressive new beginning. The tribe was now permanently involved in the welfare of its timberlands and the advance toward fulfilling its goal of self-sufficiency" (Storm and Capoeman, 207).

Speaking for the tribe at the time of the blockade, DeLaCruz took a more prosaic view, but one that perhaps more clearly foretold future actions:

"Anyone who would go up and look at what they're doing to the streams would agree with us . . We have 1,012 Indians living on the reservation. If we don't protect what we have, their own and their children's futures are at stake" (The Seattle Times, September 26, 1971).

The confrontation worked for the tribe in both symbolic and practical terms, and DeLaCruz received much of the credit. Soon he would take over leadership of the Quinault Indian Nation and devote his full talents to work for his tribe and for Native Americans across the country.

Fighting for the Fish

The vindication of the Quinault's right to fish under treaty provisions has had a long and contentious history. As long ago as 1925, the tribe had sued the predecessor agency to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for interfering with its treaty fishing rights, and in 1929 the tribe considered banning all non-Indian fishing in Lake Quinault (it is still allowed, but only by tribal permit). When the tribe (along with other Washington tribes) was not fighting the federal government to enforce treaty rights, it was fighting state attempts to limit those rights through regulations.

The battles waxed and waned for decades, with no clear resolution. That was all to change when the tribes and the federal government joined forces in 1970 to challenge the state's attempts to regulate Indian fishing. The case was United States v. State of Washington, and the decision by Ninth Circuit District Court Judge George Boldt (1903-1984) changed the game forever. It also made Washington's tribes, and Joe DeLaCruz, an influential political enemy -- Washington state Attorney General Slade Gorton (b. 1928), who later went on to serve as a Republican U.S. senator.

After a lengthy trial in 1973, what became known as the "Boldt Decision" was handed down in 1974, then withstood appeals by the state until it was largely affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1979. Judge Boldt held that the government's promise to permit Indians to fish at their accustomed places "in common" with non-Indians meant that treaty tribes were entitled to take 50 percent of the annual fish harvest. He ruled that this promise was central to the treaty-making process and that the tribes had an original right to the fish, which they extended to white settlers. It was not up to the state to tell the tribes how to manage something that had always belonged to them, Judge Boldt said, and he ordered the state to take action to limit fishing by non-Indians, thereby securing the rights the treaties guaranteed to the tribes.

Joe DeLaCruz, by then Quinault Indian Nation tribal chairman, had been the last witness to testify for the plaintiffs during the trial. Twenty-five years later, he stressed that the Boldt Decision did much more than merely interpret and uphold the clear language of the treaties:

"I have a little different perspective. I saw the 'Fish Wars' as a catalyst to bring people together . . [O]nce Boldt happened, it gave us a unified voice and we pushed from Gov. Evans on through to get an Office of Indian Affairs in state government" ("Joe DeLaCruz: Boldt Decision Gave Tribes Unified Voice").

Even beyond that, DeLaCruz believed that the federal government's support, and specific actions by the administration of Richard Nixon (1913-1994) gave the concept of tribal sovereignty a major boost:

"President Nixon’s statement regarding self-determination was very key and it’s moved on from there. Nixon moved federal policy regarding Indians toward self-determination and self-governance rather than encouraging assimilation of Indian people . . If you look at U.S. history, you have an executive branch and legislative branch expression of government-to-government relationships and most Supreme Court decisions affirm that as well. The Boldt Decision gave us more than just talking, it gave us tools" ("Joe DeLaCruz: Boldt Decision Gave Tribes Unified Voice").

Although DeLaCruz was never arrested for "illegal" fishing activities, he was very active as a spokesman and strategist for the tribal cause. After being on the losing side in the Boldt Decision, Slade Gorton went on to election to the U.S. Senate, and continued to have frequent disagreements with Native Americans causes after his 1980 election. But DeLaCruz had a long memory, and 20 years later, near the end of his life, one of his last campaigns would help end Gorton's political career.

Sovereignty versus Dependency

Prior to 1953, the relationship between the U.S. government and Native Americans was one of dependency, with the "guardian" government obligated, in theory, to see to the welfare of the "ward" tribes. This was inconsistent with any ideas of tribal sovereignty. For the better part of the nation's history, the inherent conflict between the guardian/ward view and the sovereignty view rendered consistent policy virtually impossible. The relationships between the tribes, the federal government, and state governments just tumbled along with little discernible direction or ultimate goal, to everyone's dissatisfaction.

It was in this context that, in August 1953, the U.S. Congress unanimously passed House Concurrent Resolution 108, the stated goal of which was to

"make the Indians within the territorial limits of the United States subject to the same laws and entitled to the same privileges and responsibilities as are applicable to other citizens of the United States, to end their status as wards of the United States, and to grant them all of the rights and prerogatives pertaining to American citizenship" (House Concurrent Resolution 108).

What on its face could be read as a liberating act by a benign government in fact had much darker ramifications. Treaties signed over the previous 150 years had granted Native Americans certain "privileges" including the entire reservation system and the provision of badly needed social services, for which much had been surrendered. Under the provision of HCR 108, these privileges would be terminated and the unique legal status of reservations revoked. Although by its terms it did not apply to very many tribes or to all states, it was a clear signal that the federal government was moving toward ending its role as, at least in theory, the guarantor of Indian welfare.

Another piece of legislation passed the same year carried matters even further. Public Law 83-280, enacted on August 15, 1953, sought to give certain state governments the right to extend their civil and criminal jurisdiction into Indian reservations without the approval of the tribes. The states, in effect, could nullify tribal judicial sovereignty that had been granted by treaty. Not surprisingly, this was viewed by many as just part of an effort by the federal government to wash its hands of all involvement in Indian matters.

Neither HCR 108 nor Public Law 83-280 directly applied to either Washington state or to the Quinault Indian Nation, but the very existence of treaty reservations, tribes as cohesive units, and the concept of tribal sovereignty were being challenged, and it seemed certain that the trend would eventually carry over to all tribes in all states. The shorthand on the street for these policies was "termination, relocation, and assimilation" (Laurie Johnstonbaugh) -- terminate the federal government's responsibilities, relocate Indians from their reservations, and assimilate Native Americans into mainstream, non-Indian American society. Twenty years later, Joe DeLaCruz was having none of it, or at least none of most of it.

Changing The Rules Yet Again

As DeLaCruz pointed out in his interview about the Boldt Decision, "tribal sovereignty" as an idea, was nothing new. It was explicit or implicit in the language of many treaties, laws, and court decisions ranging over 200 years of American history. But the reality was something different. Through the decades, relations between the sovereign tribes and the federal and state governments were characterized by an attitude of paternalism, driven by a (usually) unspoken belief that Native Americans were not competent to handle their own affairs. The 1953 legislation sought to change this, but it went at it with a broad-ax, at a cost that most Native Americans believed to be far too high.

DeLaCruz came to symbolize a middle way. He believed that the federal and state governments has certain obligations under treaties that could not be "terminated" with the stroke of a pen. He believed that the reservations belonged to the tribes by right, and that any idea of Indian "relocation" violated that right. He believed that tribal culture and tradition was every bit as legitimate as that of non-Natives and must not be destroyed through "assimilation." And finally, DeLaCruz viewed tribal sovereignty as the key to virtually all other issues of Indian rights and Indian responsibilities. This belief led him to move far beyond the confines and concerns of the Quinault Indian Nation and to play a key role, nationally and even internationally, in the fight for Native American sovereignty.

Almost contemporaneous with DeLaCruz's public identification with the cause of Indian sovereignty, the federal government was starting to see the error of its ways. In the final year of the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973), Congress in 1968 passed a resolution repudiating HCR 108. More significantly, the Indian Civil Rights Act, also passed in 1968, repealed PL 280, returning legal jurisdiction over reservations to the tribes. Significantly, this act imposed upon the tribes most, but not all, of the Constitutional requirements of the Bill of Rights, a tacit acknowledgment of at least partial sovereignty. The act is, for example, silent on the issue of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, indicating an intent to allow tribes a certain latitude not available to state or federal government.

The trend continued and accelerated under President Nixon, although as with many things that Nixon did, the motivation was in some circles suspect. Uncharitable commentators opined that the administration's goal in proposing facially pro-Indian legislation was simply to defang Indian militancy, which culminated in the the Wounded Knee siege of early 1973 others saw it as a legitimate attempt to right some previous wrongs and set Native/non-Native relations on a new path. Motivation aside, among the significant legislation of the Nixon years were the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the return of contested land to tribes in Oregon and Arizona, and the restoration of federal recognition to the Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin, which had been terminated in 1954 under HCR 108. One author noted that the passage of these and other bills in the 1970s "rang out the death-knell of termination and signaled the new era of self-determination" (Nagel, 217). And then there was the 1974 Boldt Decision, which validated arguments that tribes had been making for decades and vindicated those who believed that the courts would, in the end, do the right thing.

A National Leader

Joe DeLaCruz displayed a combination of intelligence, education, vision, and charisma that soon pushed him to the front of groups fighting for Native American causes, in both Washington state and nationally. While still business manager for the Quinault, he threw his support behind the struggles of other Washington tribes. He joined forces with Bernie Whitebear (1937-2000), another charismatic Indian leader, in the 1970 confrontations at Fort Lawton in Seattle. These efforts led to the founding of the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation and the construction of Daybreak Star Cultural Center on the grounds of the largely decommissioned fort. DeLaCruz then became a force in the "Fish Wars" litigation that culminated in the Boldt Decision that vindicated Indian treaty rights.

In 1977, just five years after assuming leadership of the Quinault Indian Nation, DeLaCruz's abilities were recognized with his election to lead the National Tribal Chairmen's Association, which had been formed six years earlier. This group was composed of elected and appointed chairmen, presidents, governors, and chiefs of reservation Indians and other federally recognized tribes in the United State. In this position, which he held until 1981, DeLaCruz started to gain a national reputation and soon became a sought-after strategist and spokesman for a multitude of different causes of importance to Native Americans.

Soon after stepping down as leader of the chairmen's association, DeLaCruz was elected to an even more important national post as head of the National Congress of American Indians, in which he served from 1981 to 1985. This was a perfect fit for DeLaCruz the organization had been founded in 1944 in response to the policies of "termination, relocation, and assimilation" that were already being bandied about in the halls of Congress. In the often-fractious milieu of inter- and infra-tribal politics, the National Congress of American Indians consistently advocated the critical necessity of unity and cooperation if tribes were to succeed in protecting their treaty and sovereign rights.

Though traveling frequently and always in demand as a speaker and strategist, DeLaCruz also had a reservation to run, and although his administration of the Quinault Indian Nation was subjected to regular scrutiny and frequent complaints, much was accomplished during his tenure. He played a central role in many tribal activities and projects, including forestry management, land restoration, housing construction, and seafood processing. He viewed anything that contributed to economic independence as part and parcel of the struggle for true tribal sovereignty. He believed that a sovereign state must have as a goal the ability to sustain itself, both by producing much of what it consumes and by creating goods or services for export. Most important, he believed that the Quinaults, and other tribes, had skills, talents, and resources that had not been fully tapped during the decades of paternalism.

Joe DeLaCruz always had his eyes on the big picture, and the big picture was Native American sovereignty, in every sense of the word. To this cause he devoted his life, persuading Indians and non-Indians alike that not only did Native Americans have an inarguable right to sovereignty, but also the skills and ability to exercise that right and its attendant obligations.

The Voice of Joe DeLaCruz

The travels and activities of Joe DeLaCruz over his 30-plus years of tribal leadership were far too extensive to detail in this essay. But his words were as important as his actions they provide the best demonstration of his intelligence, dedication, and persuasiveness:

"If our Peoples are to survive in the long term, alternative means must be found for resolving conflict besides seeking relief through prolonged and heated litigation that enriches attorneys while polarizing the public. The most promising way we now have to protect our interests is to strengthen our governments. We must encourage our governments to actively assert our rights in the non-Indian world. Our Peoples must work closely together to increase our control over our resources and solidify tribal opinion" (Keynote, National Fisheries Conference, 1980).

On the importance of salmon:

"Our histories have been built upon a salmon resource that consists of thousands of distinct races of fish which return to the rivers along the coast. Survival for these races of salmon depends upon strong local control to ensure that suitable environmental conditions are found in the streams where the fish spawn. To protect the salmon and preserve the basis for their heritage, Indian Governments must assert their rights to manage their resources. If tribes choose not to exercise their authority, their decisions will be made for them by others. The fate of the salmon has been and is now being decided by political processes of other governments" (Keynote, National Fisheries Conference, 1980).

On the meaning of sovereignty:

"I believe the ordinary meaning of government-to-government relations is the establishment of mutually acceptable procedures between friendly governments to achieve better relations and a healthy respect between governments. It does not mean bureaucrats 'consulting' with us before the federal government does what it has already begun to do. It does not mean federal agency interference in our internal affairs. It means that there is a certain distance between our governments, and the U.S. government which must be respected. It means establishing mutual respect for the separate and distinct powers of our governments. It means establishing direct and formal inter-governmental mechanisms between our governments to advance Indian self-determination, and quickly resolve disputes" (Presidential Address, 1984).

On inter-government relations:

"But the way out of this centuries-old confrontation, this clash between different worlds, will require some new and clearer thinking than has been typical over the years. We can begin that new and clearer thinking by first considering three ideas:

"First, Indian Nations and Tribes must come to accept that the United States and the various states will not simply fade away and disappear. Many of our people have held this view in their hearts throughout the generations. We must now accept that the United States and her people will remain on this continent as our neighbors.

"Secondly, the United States and each of her states must accept that Indian Nations and Tribes will not fade away and disappear. Our Nations remain as permanent as the soil.

"Thirdly, everyone must recognize and understand that the establishment of the United States of America did not give the United States the right to claim or possess Indian Peoples and their territories. Indian Nations and Tribes did not become a part of the United States and they are not a part of the United States now. Though the United States made our people citizens, our peoples remain citizens of our own Nations, and our Nations remain as separate and distinct from the United States and her states which were created around our territories. Our Nationshave become islands in a sea of land on this continent where we and our neighbors must now coexist.

"If we can come to accept these basic concepts, then we can take the next step to renew efforts begun more than two hundred and twelve years ago -- to establish a working process between our nations, between our governments, to resolve or at least lower the heat on our differences. Like the neighbors we are, we must agree first to talk and then we must agree to establish mutually acceptable methods for resolving our conflicts" (Seminar on Government-to-Government Relations, 1985)

DeLaCruz exercised his eloquence in hundreds of speeches in dozens of states and countries. He worked and spoke in support not only of his own tribe, but also of other tribes in the U.S. and Canada, and for indigenous peoples all over the world.


Among his myriad accomplishments were these:

  • His efforts were crucial to the passage of the 1975 Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act (P.L. 93-638), and he later worked for passage of the Tribal Self-Governance Program, which sought to convert the principles of tribal sovereignty and government-to-government relations into reality. It was finally enacted into law on August 18, 2000, four months after DeLaCruz's death.
  • He served as president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians in the late 1980s.
  • He was a founding member of the Northwest Renewable Resources Center in 1984.
  • He was a strong supporter of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and helped create the Pacific Salmon Commission in 1985.
  • He served as co-chair of the National State-Tribal Relations Commission.
  • He originated the idea of the Centennial Accord, signed by Governor Booth Gardner (b. 1936) and tribal leaders from throughout Washington in the state's centennial year of 1989. The accord, which recognized the sovereignty of Indian tribes and the government-to-government relationship of Natives and non-Natives, was later emulated by indigenous peoples and governments throughout the world.

In 1990, DeLaCruz was one of three Washington state tribal heads to sign a pact with the U.S. government under the Self-Governance Act of 1988. Under the terms of the agreement, the Quinault, the Lummi, and the Jamestown Klallam tribes became "demonstration tribes" in an experiment that would allow them to negotiate tribal subsidies "government-to-government" with the U.S. Department of the Interior, rather than through the Byzantine bureaucracy of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It was widely seen as a huge step away from the paternalism that had long characterized the relationship between the government and Native Americans. At the time, DeLaCruz stressed that the agreement was more than symbolic:

"They are calling us pioneer tribes. The future is up to us . . If self-governance works, it will be our opportunity to get rid of the people who thrive on the miseries of Indians . . For the first time in decades, we don't have to ask permission to make life better. If we want to patch the potholes in our roads, we can do it. If we want to build a new road, we can do it. And we are building roads. We're building roads to the future" ("Some Native American Tribes Begin Push for Self-Determination").

But he also cautioned that self-government would require more than just a document:

Criticism and Controversy

Joe DeLaCruz made his share of mistakes and misjudgments, both in his professional and in his personal life. He was an effective organizer and a great energizer, but perhaps a less effective administrator, and in some respects a divisive figure within the tribe. Much discontent was rooted in the fragmented ownership of reservation land -- a measure that might mollify one group of owners could often enrage another. Non-Indians, in particular, felt their property rights were constantly under siege during the DeLaCruz era. This may have been largely unavoidable.

Tribal politics have been sometimes marked by factions and political fights revolving around power cliques based on family or clan. The Quinault are no exception. Five years after DeLaCruz took over leadership of the tribe, he and his supporters obtained sufficient support to pass amendments to the tribal constitution that consolidated power in the tribe's business committee, which he headed. The administrative offices of the Quinault Nation were soon dominated by DeLaCruz's friends, family members, and supporters the benefits of certain contracts entered into by the tribe seemed to some to flow disproportionately to these same friends, family members, and supporters. Dissidents launched two attempts to recall DeLaCruz, the last in 1992, but both failed.

DeLaCruz was frequently accused of cronyism and nepotism, and of filling important and well-paying tribal offices with people from outside the reservation. He was unapologetic, even defiant, arguing that in a town as small as Taholah, such a result was unavoidable. He insisted that the people he appointed to tribal posts or to whom contracts were awarded were the most qualified for the jobs, and that this would change as more tribe members obtained better education and training. When questioned about these matters DeLaCruz said:

There was also tension between traditionalists who distrusted nearly any form of "progress," and modernizers who, like DeLaCruz, believed tribal survival and prosperity could be achieved only by adopting the business ways of non-Natives. Disputes also arose over just how much money and energy the tribe should expend on preserving its culture, as opposed to building a sound economic base for the future. DeLaCruz was not a starry-eyed traditionalist by any stretch he believed that money the tribe controlled was better spent on economic development than on social programs, at least initially. DeLaCruz could be curt and dismissive on the issue, saying on one occasion:

"Every family from Taholah to Queets has a different opinion on culture. I'm not one who believes culture is dances and powwows" ("The Spirits of Then Uplift Spirits of Now").

On the issue of how federal funds should be allocated, he was equally adamant, arguing that to insure rapid economic progress for the whole tribe, most of the its cash resources needed to go to economic development rather than "people programs." When it was suggested during an interview that the tribe should spend more addressing the problems alcoholism, juvenile delinquency, and the elderly, DeLaCruz responded:

"That would be a major mistake. If we want self-sufficiency and to take care of our own, we can't afford to do that" ("Progress a Mixed Bag…").

DeLaCruz was also accused of engaging in negotiations and making deals regarding the reservation's resources without full consultation with tribal members or meaningful oversight by anyone. He argued that tribe members should simply trust him, as only he knew all the facts, and that it was unreasonable that he should be expected, or even able, to explain complex governmental requirements or complicated scientific research to constituents who lacked the education or training to understand it. His overall attitude seemed to be that, having been elected, he should be left alone to run things as he saw fit. There was no doubt some truth to DeLaCruz's rebuttals to the various charges made against him, but his intolerance of criticism often widened differences rather than bridged them.

DeLaCruz served a wider constituency than just the Quinault Indian Nation, and this also brought criticism. As he became more active in the national and even international struggles of indigenous peoples, he traveled frequently throughout the U.S., Canada, and overseas and spent less and less time at the reservation he was elected and paid to run. This too he defended, arguing that the support of other Native Americans and indigenous people from other lands was important to secure the sovereign rights of the Quinault Indian Nation. Many of his opponents found the connection tenuous and were not persuaded, but they could never get the votes to oust him.

Sometimes rumors of scandal were buttressed by fact. A critical federal audit of the Quinault's finances released in October 1981 led DeLaCruz to voluntarily (albeit temporarily) step down as leader. He acknowledging serious bookkeeping problems, but insisted that no fraud or dishonesty had been shown. The record appears to support that claim, but it provided more fuel for his critics.

In the end, it was family and not politics that brought to an end Joe DeLaCruz's 22-year tenure as head of the Quinault Indian Nation. On March 15, 1993, he was arrested during a police stand-off involving his 16-year-old grandson, who was suspected of attacking a Moclips man with a machete. The grandson, allegedly armed with an assault rifle, had barricaded himself in a home on the reservation, surrounded by tribal police. DeLaCruz arrived at the scene and was arrested after bursting through a barricade and entering a home. Although the grandson soon surrendered, Joe DeLaCruz was held for investigation on charges of obstructing police and reckless endangerment. Also arrested were his 52-year-old wife, 44-year-old brother, and 33-year-old daughter, and her boyfriend.

Immediately after his arrest, DeLaCruz again stepped down from office, characterizing it as a "temporary" measure until the criminal case was resolved. But by this time, his renown as an articulate spokesman for the rights of indigenous peoples was widespread, and he may have believed that he had done as much as he could for his tribe. Leadership of the Quinault Indian Nation passed to his vice-president, Pearl Capoeman-Baller.

State Politics

In late 1995, Washington Governor Mike Lowry (1939-2017) tried to appoint DeLaCruz to a seat on the state's Fish and Wildlife Commission. Still enraged by the Boldt Decision, groups representing sport fishermen howled in protest, claiming that having a Native American sit on a board that had some control over nontribal fishing created a conflict of interest. The state Senate refused to give him a confirmation hearing. He could have served until a vote expressly rejecting his nomination was taken, but he refused, and was not shy in blaming his treatment on racism:

"It amazes me that the senators could choose to ignore or oppose my appointment on this basis and not be berated by the people. In my opinion, to remain on this commission, in view of these racist activities, would be an act of condonance. This I cannot do . " ("Racism Is to Blame, DeLaCruz Says").

In 2000, DeLaCruz struck back at his old foe, former state Attorney General Slade Gorton, then running for re-election to the U.S. Senate. While in the Senate, Gorton had gained the reputation of being an opponent of the tribes and a threat to their continuing efforts at self-government and economic independence. Some Indian leaders questioned the wisdom of tackling Gorton head-on, but DeLaCruz had no such qualms: "We've had to spend a lot of money (lobbying) to get his bills killed. What more can he do to us?" ("Tribes Intending to Raise $1 Million to Bring Down Gorton. "). At least in part due to Indian efforts, Gorton lost the 2000 election to Democrat Maria Cantwell (b. 1958) by a narrow margin.

A Great Indian Leader

DeLaCruz stayed constantly in motion in his last years, spending more time in airports and hotels than at home. He was a much sought-after speaker, both here and abroad, and stayed active to the end. Fittingly, he died suddenly of a heart attack on April 16, 2000, while waiting to catch a plane at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to attend a national meeting on Indian health care. He was 62 years old. Almost three months to the day later, his old companion-in-arms, Bernie Whitebear, died in Seattle, also age 62.

The depth and durability of Joe DeLaCruz's influence during his life on the battles for the rights of indigenous peoples can be seen in the encomiums that came his way after his death:

  • "Everywhere you look among Native Americans, you see Joe 's imprint. I am in disbelief. Joe started a lot of things. His programs became models for Native Americans everywhere. It is a heavy blow when you lose one of those Great Cedars" (Suzan Harjo, a Cheyenne-Muskogee Indian activist in Washington, D.C.).
  • "He was very bright and articulate. And he stayed focused. He was devoted to the notion that someone needs to speak for the rights of indigenous people -- not just in this nation but around the globe" (Tom Keefe, former U.S. Senate aide).
  • "Joe was totally committed to the principle of tribal sovereignty. That principle was the backbone of everything he did. He was a peaceful warrior . . His weapon was his ability to sell his ideas and personality" (Mel Tonasket of the Confederated Colville Tribes).
  • "He was one of the greatest Indian leaders who ever lived in the United States" (Billy Frank Jr., Nisqually fishing activist and long-serving chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission).
  • "Joe DeLaCruz will always be a part of Washington state, just as this land was always a part of him" (Governor Gary Locke).
  • "As far as I'm concerned, he ranked up there with the top chiefs of the old times -- Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Chief Joseph, Crazy Horse -- because of what he accomplished for Indian people in his time. He didn't fight a war of bloodshed, but a war of knowledge and wisdom for the rights of Indian people" (James DeLaCruz Jr., nephew).

On April 22, 2000, more than 2,000 people, including representatives of dozens of Native America tribes and groups, honored the life of Joe DeLaCruz at services conducted at the new Quinault Tribal Resort in Ocean Shores. Among his survivors were his wife, Dorothy, three daughters, two sons, and numerous nephews and nieces. By agreement with Dorothy, a member of the Colville Tribe of Eastern Washington, his body was later taken there for burial.

In an oft-quoted statement, DeLaCruz spoke of the importance of sovereignty:

Not long after his death, the memory of DeLaCruz was honored when the Northwest Indian Applied Research Institute at Evergreen State College established the Joe DelaCruz Center for Advanced Studies in Tribal Government "to focus its research and educational programs on tribal governance on the ideas and work of The Honorable Joe DelaCruz." He would have been pleased.

Joe DeLaCruz (1937-2000)

Quinault Indian fishermen and canoes, mouth of Quinault River, Olympic Peninsula, ca. 1900

Photo by Edward S. Curtis, Courtesy Northwestern University Library

Map, Quinault Indian Nation Reservation, Olympic Pensinsula

Chow Chow Bridge, Quinault Indian Nation Reservation, Olympic Peninsula, 1952

Courtesy Historic American Engineering Record (HAER No. WA-5)

Joe DeLaCruz (1937-2000)

Courtesy Tribal Self-Governance Office

Grave and totem, Joseph Burton DeLaCruz (1937-2000), Inchelium, Ferry County, May 5, 2011

Ironically, twice it was the celebration of a century of colonial settlement that provided the platform for a resurgence of Indigenous canoes. I think of these historical moments as Thanksgivings in reverse.

Post-Expo, the idea continued to spread. In 1989, the late Emmett Oliver of the Quinault Nation organized the Paddle to Seattle to ensure native representation during Washington state’s centennial. Ironically, twice it was the celebration of a century of colonial settlement that provided the platform for a resurgence of Indigenous canoes. I think of these historical moments as Thanksgivings in reverse — Indigenous people appropriating colonial celebrations to bring back traditional life-ways and reclaim connections to ancestral lands.

In 1993, Brown’s home community of Bella Bella hosted the first annual Qatuwas, or “people gathering together,” in conjunction with the International Year of the World’s Indigenous People. The gathering, thereafter known as the
Tribal Canoe Journey, has been held every year since.

“The people of the coast have embraced the vessel as an empowering tool in our process of decolonization,” says Brown. “However, it does not come without a challenge, and that’s what our young people need: to challenge themselves through thinking through, and working through, the process of getting from one destination to another.”

Our skipper guides the canoe’s bow into the onrushing white waters of Dodd’s Narrows, a treacherous coastal bottleneck between Vancouver Island and Gabriola Island just south of Nanaimo, B.C.

My father braces his foot against mine and leans forward, poised to charge into battle against the mighty Salish Sea. Dad, veteran of rez fisticuffs, inheritor of a centuries-long resistance against annihilation that bent his body and spirit into permanent defensive pride, has a warrior’s heart. He is 5'10", but in these moments, even as his 57-year-old frame fades, his presence is much taller.

Our bodies are failing — my father’s from decades of carving hulking tree trunks and downing thousands of bottles, mine from a bad case of coxsackievirus, with accompanying flu-like symptoms, that landed me in the emergency room just a few days prior — but our spirits are unyielding. The skipper calls out 100, 200, then 300 “power pulls” — hard, prayerful strokes, to muscle our crew of 11 through the rough waters of the narrows and the hard knocks of life. Despite collective struggle, our canoe barely progresses. Dad swears in pain and frustration. After 500 power pulls, we stop counting altogether and break into song.

“Wi-la, Wi-la, Wi-la-wi!” our young pacesetter calls out from the bow.

“He-yo!” we respond from the stern.

After 20 minutes of backbreaking work, we pull through the far side of the narrows. Along the voyage, crews sing paddle songs, new and old, to keep rhythm and uplift spirit. After each long day of pulling under the summer sun, canoes, support boats and road crews stop to visit with their hosts, rekindling connections that criss-cross the Northwest, extending north and south, to the inland and out onto the sea, like the warp and weft of the traditional cedar bark hats the pullers wear on the water. It takes days and even weeks of paddling across hundreds of kilometres of ocean for the canoes to reach each year’s final port-of-call in early August. There, the participants celebrate with a week of potlatch singing, dancing, feasting and giveaways.

Contrast this with the modern world that is habituated to jets, trains, ships and automobiles, where travel is solo or in small groups with little labour entailed. Spaces traversed are liminal, sometimes termed “fly-over country.” The destination is what matters. If you need to get from point A to point B, buy a ticket or fill up the tank, grab a bag and go.

The traditional oceangoing canoe, meanwhile, is a communal vessel. Groups work together to fell and carve old-growth cedar, ideal for a hull. Generations of master carvers have fine-tuned the canoe’s dynamic form. Meticulous craft and care go into burning the log hollow and shaping it with an adze. Every year, dozens of hands come together to carry watercraft to the sea. Teams of pullers paddling in unison pilot their way through churning tides, crashing waves and swift currents to traverse the coastal seascape that connects ocean to continent and past to future.

“This canoe movement is the most significant gathering of Indigenous Peoples in the Americas today,” says Brown.

“What it does is it endears [our territories] into the hearts of our young people so that when it comes time and they’re called
upon to stand up for those resources that we depend on, and that environment, then the community has a very strong ethic and a value and a commitment, because they’re practising the lifestyle.”

Not long ago, generations of Indigenous children were abducted and incarcerated in residential schools. Their languages and cultures were quite literally beaten out of them in an organized effort to “kill the Indian in the child.” At the same time, Indigenous cultural and spiritual gatherings were outlawed under the potlatch ban in 1886, which remained in effect until 1951.

Both of my father’s parents were sent to residential schools. He was born in a residential school hospital and spent his childhood bouncing from one home to the next. He has lived a life of intergenerational trauma, struggling to be a father. His
absence from my childhood left me — the next generation — with an enduring wound where a parent should have been.

Yet despite persistent efforts to stamp out Indigenous cultures and communities — to make my grandparents and my father forget who they are — today, Indigenous people such as me are born into a world where the beauty and power of who we are is embraced. In the Pacific Northwest, the canoe is central to this resurgence. It brings communities together to paddle ancestral waterways. It challenges elders and youth to revive old songs and dances and compose new ones so they can paddle onto their neighbours’ shores, proudly singing-in the spirits of our ancestors. In an age of digital relationships, it brings families together to celebrate and work through troubles. It reintroduces people to water in an elemental way, reminding us that water sustains life.

This is a messy process. It’s not a weekly church service. After generations of colonial trauma, native families and communities have serious issues to work through over early morning canoe departures, cannonballs that memorialize our
trickster past and marijuana bowls that signify our painful present.

But if we rise to the challenge and learn to live and work together again, the resurgence of Indigenous values and teachings just might carry transformative potential for a world hurtling toward ecological disaster. We are the progeny of tricksters,
after all. And this is how tricksters change the world.

Moving Taholah Village Before It’s Swallowed by the Sea

On the rugged Washington coast, where the mouth of the Quinault River spills into the Pacific Ocean, sits a tiny Quinault Indian Nation village called Taholah. Most of Taholah’s homes and businesses are located near the water in the lower village, a half-square-mile area bordered by the Quinault River to the north and ocean to the west. Years of fierce storms and the realities of pervasive poverty have left their mark on battered buildings, but the lower village remains the heart of the neighborhood. It has the K-12 school, a head start preschool, a community center, a history museum, a senior center, a couple of seafood wholesalers, a gas station, and about 175 homes.

Someday, it will all be under water.

The inundation could be quick or it could come inch by inch over centuries. The worst-case scenario is this: Taholah sits in the Cascadia subduction zone, a 1,000-mile fault line between the Juan de Fuca and North American tectonic plates. Eventually, the tectonic plates will slip, causing a massive earthquake followed by a tsunami that will wash the village into the sea.

“Minority communities and, in Alaska especially, indigenous communities are disproportionately impacted. It’s our responsibility to make sure we are amplifying those voices with the platform we have built and are privileged to have.”

But even if a disastrous earthquake doesn’t strike any time soon, lower Taholah will still likely fall victim to flooding tides. As the planet warms and sea levels rise, the high tide line will eventually rise above the town’s seawall, then above the town itself. A recent sea level rise model from Climate Central shows that, if humans continue emitting carbon at their current rate, the planet will warm by four degrees Celsius and Taholah will be fully inundated within the next several hundred years. Even if humanity manages to avoid that degree of warming, a two-degree rise in global temperatures — which most scientists agree would take huge efforts to avoid at this point — would still flood most of the village.

Residents have already gotten a taste of the sea rise to come. In March of 2014, powerful waves breached the town’s seawall during a storm and flooded several homes and buildings near the beach. In response, Quinault President Fawn Sharp declared a state of emergency and issued a voluntary evacuation order. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers came and reinforced the existing seawall, but, according to Sharp, the fix was meant to be temporary, lasting two years to give them time to implement more permanent solutions.

The Quinault are in the midst of one of those solutions. Funded by a grant from the Administration for Native Americans, the Quinault have hired three planners to create a relocation master plan to move the lower village about a half-mile away to higher ground.

Taholah has been at its current site on the coast for at least as long as Quinault have had oral history and, according to Sharp, likely longer. The Quinault would meet and trade with other tribes on beaches near the village. The river’s endemic salmon species brought people to Taholah from the south, inland, and Canada. In modern times, the village has played host to the annual Chief Taholah Days celebration has hosted the Tribal Canoe Journeys, a celebration of indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest coast and more.

𠇏rom our perspective [the village has been there] from time immemorial,” Sharp says. “With regards to our feelings about moving uphill, it’s really sad … a lot of historic things happened here.”

Recognizing the tsunami risk, the tribe moved its health clinic and emergency services to higher ground about 10 years ago. Moving the remainder of the village will be a much more costly challenge. Over two-thirds of Taholah’s 900 residents live in the lower village, including 100 tribal elders. About 150 students attend school there. The fire and police department, tribal court, senior services, office space for 60 tribal employees, and other services will also need to make the move.

“It’s a very long and arduous process to say the least,” Quinault Vice President Tyson Johnston says. “It’s very expensive to relocate infrastructure.”

Sea level rise is a pressing concern, but it is just one of several ways climate change is impacting the Quinault Nation. By 2009, the Anderson Glacier, which helps feeds the Quinault River, had receded by 90 percent from its 1927 size. The glacial melt helps regulate the river temperature. Without it, the river is warming, which harms the sockeye salmon that Quinault have fished for millennia. The glacier also used to provide a protective blanket of snow and ice. No longer absorbed by the glacier, rainstorms can carry dirt, mud, and debris off the mountainside and into the river where the silt can clog the gills of young salmon. If that weren’t enough, sockeye numbers have also been hurt by ocean acidification.

Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation. (Photo: Quinault Indian Nation)

Johnston says the changes are putting people on edge. “There’s the unnaturally hot weather. The terrible salmon runs that have traditionally been much stronger. Certain kinds of bugs from further south that you’re now seeing here. Community wide, we know climate change is real and it’s affecting our way of life.”

Conversations about climate change tend to get framed around the unavoidable catastrophes of the future wrought by our actions today. But the Quinault Nation is experiencing the impacts of climate change right now, and it’s irrevocably altering the community’s way of life.

Many of the issues that the Quinault Nation is grappling with now — rising seas, unprecedented heat, transforming ecosystems, and survival through adaptation — mirror the problems facing environmental conservation groups such as National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, and many others.

Once rooted in the work of protecting wild lands and animals by fighting development, restoring habitat, blocking bulldozers, and the like, conservation work is adapting to the unprecedented threats of climate change. Conservation groups are finding themselves engaged in work that looks as much like social justice advocacy as it does environmentalism, collaborating with unexpected partners, and putting tremendous effort and resources into stemming the literal tides of climate change before there’s no planet left to conserve.

No longer absorbed by the glacier, rainstorms can carry dirt, mud, and debris off the mountainside and into the river where the silt can clog the gills of young salmon.

Of course, they aren’t just beginning to realize climate change is a problem. Patty Glick, the NWF’s senior global warming specialist, has been leading the wildlife conservation group’s climate change advocacy for over 17 years. As the cultural acceptance of climate change has shifted, the movement has been able to move from simply screaming about the reality of climate change to discussing more substantive solutions.

“When I came to the NWF and really started to talk about resilience and adaptation, the conservation community … was very hesitant to even talk about the need to adapt,” Glick says. “Their concern, legitimate or not, was that, as soon as we started talking about the need to deal with impacts, we were throwing up our hands and saying we can’t do anything to reduce climate change, so let’s just prepare.”

She continues: “We need to do both. We need to prepare for the best-case scenarios and work like hell to prevent the worst-case scenarios through mitigation.”

Glick’s work centers on climate research as it relates to wildlife populations and habitat, as well as outreach and advocacy with elected officials, businesses, and other stakeholders around climate adaptation.

For the NWF and others, climate change has necessitated a focus on the future rather than the past. “Some of our traditional goals of restoring historic populations to their native ranges are probably no longer tenable,” Glick says. “It’s requiring the conservation community to think about how we can create the desired future conditions for these species.”

For the Sierra Club, the realities of climate change have led to a similar pivot. “One of the things we’re seeing as climate change accelerates is that it’s becoming increasingly hard to plan for impacts,” says Alli Harvey, a representative for the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign in Alaska. “That impact is so sweeping and pervasive that it’s really forcing traditional conservation groups, the Sierra Club included, to take a hard look at the way we prioritize our work, communicate about our work, and who’s at the table having those discussions.”

Her campaign is focused on fighting oil and gas drilling in Alaska and the Arctic. While that still involves lobbying, grassroots organizing, and public awareness campaigns, Harvey says the Sierra Club is working with far broader coalitions than they had in previous generations.

“Our focus, to some extent, will always be about protecting landscapes, but as we’ve evolved, it’s become a lot more about people … you’re really looking at this as more of a social justice issue,” Harvey says. “Minority communities and, in Alaska especially, indigenous communities are disproportionately impacted. It’s our responsibility to make sure we are amplifying those voices with the platform we have built and are privileged to have.”

The Sierra Club has been working closely with indigenous Alaskans from Shishmaref, a tiny town on Sarichef Island in the Chukchi Sea. The threat of sea rise is imminent there and, like Taholah, Shishmaref is in the process of trying to relocate to higher ground.

Glick says the NWF has also been working with new partners from federal agencies, such as FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers, whose projects have at times damaged wildlife habitats. “We’re working with groups that perhaps sometimes have been at odds with the conservation community like the Army Corps of Engineers,” she says. “We’ve been able to find common ground and be creative about addressing these common challenges.”

A sign marking the entrance to the Quinault Indian Nation. (Photo: Josh਌ohen)

Similarly, Glick says one of their most outspoken partners on ocean acidification is Taylor Shellfish, a large Washington-based seafood company that’s moved some of its hatchery operations to Kauai, where acidification is less detrimental.

But though climate change has become a central issue in the conservation community, Glick and Harvey agree that the traditional roots of conservation work are critical. After all, the development and drilling and logging that inspired many conservation groups to form in the first place are also the things exacerbating climate change.

“The case for keeping some places just wild and intact is more pressing than ever,” Harvey says. The Earth “is a very finite resource and once you mess with an ecosystem there’s really no restoring it back to its original state.”

Back in Taholah, Sharp and her colleagues aren’t sitting by idly as the waters rise. Like the national conservation groups, the Quinault are working on both high-level policy advocacy and on-the-ground restoration projects. Sharp recently testified in Washington, D.C., at a congressional appropriations committee meeting in support of the Tribal Coastal Resiliency Act. Sponsored by Washington Representative Derek Kilmer, the bill would provide tribes access to federal funding for climate planning and mitigation without needing to declare a state of emergency.

“Up until this point we’ve only been able to access dollars in an emergency,” Sharp says. “There’s no provision for us to do long-range planning. That’s been a major barrier for us.”

The tribe is also looking for more creative opportunities. It might, for example, sell carbon credits on the global carbon trading market based on the CO2 absorbed by their 200,000 acres of forestland. A domestic company cannot participate in the global market because the United States is not a Kyoto Protocol signatory —𠂫ut Quinault can as a sovereign nation. That means they can trade carbon sequestration at the global rate, which is as much as 10 times as the U.S. rate of $2𠄳 per metric ton.

“We’re working with groups that perhaps sometimes have been at odds with the conservation community like the Army Corps of Engineers,”

“Tribes are uniquely positioned to capture some of the opportunity that’s going to be part of the future green economy,” Sharp says.

At the same time, the Quinault are engaged in traditional habitat restoration work along the Quinault River to try and restore the sockeye populations. Historical clearcutting in the river basin wreaked havoc on the ecosystem, but Sharp says their riparian habitat restoration projects are slowly having a positive impact on fish populations.


Blessed to have been mentored by visionary Native American leaders like President Joe DeLaCruz (Quinault), Billy Frank Jr. (Nisqually), and Chairwoman Ramona Bennett (Puyallup), President Sharp has dedicated her life to fighting to protect the sovereignty, human rights, and cultural inheritances of all Tribal Nations. A human rights attorney by training, she left home to get her education, ultimately receiving degrees and advanced certificates from the University of Washington, Gonzaga University, the University of Nevada, and Oxford University. In 2018, she was recognized by the United Nations as one of the foremost experts on the human rights of indigenous people globally.

After serving as an intelligence officer, Tribal attorney, and judge, Fawn Sharp has been elected to five consecutive terms as President of the Quinault Indian Nation . Under her leadership, the Quinault Nation has seen unprecedented economic growth while upholding its age-old traditions of civil rights activism, public advocacy, and local, regional, statewide, and national leadership on issues of civil rights and environmental protections. In 2018, President Sharp co-authored and co-led I-1631, the most aggressive climate change initiative in American history, ultimately receiving the support of global celebrities like Bill Gates, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Michael Bloomberg en route to forcing fossil fuel companies to spend $32 million in Washington State alone to fight it at the ballot box.

Quinault Indian Nation - History

We are among the small number of Americans who can walk the same beaches, paddle the same waters, and hunt the same lands our ancestors did centuries ago. The Quinault Indian Nation (QIN) consists of the Quinault and Queets tribes and descendants of five other coastal tribes: Quileute, Hoh, Chehalis, Chinook, and Cowlitz .

Our ancestors lived on a major physical and cultural dividing line. Beaches to the south are wide and sandy, while to the north, they are rugged and cliff-lined. We shared in the cultures of the people to the south as well as those to the north.

Living in family groups in long houses up and down the river, we were sustained by the land and by trade with neighboring tribes. Superb salmon runs, abundant sea mammals, wildlife, and forests provided substantial material and spiritual wealth to our ancestors.

A great store of knowledge about plants and their uses helped provide for our people. The western redcedar, the &ldquotree of life,&rdquo provided logs for canoes, bark for clothing, split boards for houses, and more. We are the Canoe People , the people of the cedar tree.

We remember our past while employing modern principles in a marriage that will bring hope and promise to our people now and in the future.

The QIN is a sovereign nation with the inherent right to govern itself and deal with other tribes and nations on a government-to-government basis. By-laws established in 1922 and a constitution approved in 1975 form the foundations of the modern-day Quinault government. Our General Council meets annually the last Saturday in March to hold elections, accept new tribal members, allocate fishing grounds, and discuss other issues relevant to tribal operations. The Quinault Business Committee, which consists of four executive officers and seven councilmen, is entrusted with the business and legislative affairs of the QIN throughout the year.

The Self-Governance Act of 1988 began as a demonstration project in the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). In 1990, we took the challenge, along with six other tribes, to implement self-rule in Indian affairs. This law was amended in 1991 and authorized planning activities in the Indian Health Service. After 150 years of mismanagement by the federal government, it was obvious that tribes could manage their own affairs better and make their own decisions without external interference. This is the basic underlying philosophy of Self-Governance.

Tribal operations consists of the following areas: Administration, Natural Resources, Community Services, Health and Social Services. In addition, we have several enterprises: Quinault Pride Seafood, Land and Timber, Quinault Beach Resort, Maritime Resort, and the Mercantile, all of which promote the growth and develop the potential of our Reservation. It may take another century to correct the many problems created by the &ldquoIndian agents&rdquo we once relied upon, but we now look to the future while learning from the past.

The Quinault Indian Reservation is a land of magnificent forests, swift-flowing rivers, gleaming lakes and 23 miles (37 kilometers) of unspoiled Pacific coastline. Its boundaries enclose over 208,150 acres (84,271 hectares) of some of the most productive conifer forest lands in the United States .

Located on the southwestern corner of the Olympic Peninsula, its rain-drenched lands embrace a wealth of natural resources. Conifer forests composed of western redcedar, western hemlock, Sitka spruce, Douglas-fir, Pacific silver fir and lodgepole pine dominate upland sites, while extensive stands of hardwoods, such as red alder and Pacific cottonwood, can be found in the river valleys. Roosevelt elk, black bear, blacktail deer, bald eagle, cougar, and many other animals make these forests their home.

Twenty-five thousand years ago, woolly mammoths roamed here as glaciers plowed the land, creating the rolling terrain which makes up much of the Reservation today. The glaciers also created Lake Quinault , the gem of Quinault country. The lake's twelve miles (19.3 kilometers) of shoreline enclose 3,729 acres (1,509 hectares).

As a wet, mild climate began to evolve 12,000 years ago, the glaciers withdrew to the higher peaks of the Olympics. These conditions led to the development of forests of centuries-old trees, towering nearly 300 feet into the sky, and a land of untold forest resources.

Our Reservation is more than trees and fish. It is people. People remain our most important resource and it takes educated people to fill QIN's many technical jobs. Nearly 700 people are employed by QIN and its enterprises, making it one of the largest employers in Grays Harbor County .

We have much to do and limited resources. While we live in a land of great wealth, federal government policies often impoverished our people. During the last three decades, the tribal government has taken the steps necessary to reestablish control over our own destiny and developed a strategic plan as a road map. This plan keeps all the sections of the tribal government focused and heading in the same direction.

QIN encourages individuals to develop their own businesses and also maintains many of its own enterprises, such as Quinault Pride and the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino. The only way to predict the future. is to create it. With the combined strength, courage and willingness to work together, we will build a brighter future for the Quinault People.

Native Languages of the Americas: Quinault Indian Legends, Myths, and Stories

This is our collection of links to Quinault folktales and traditional stories that can be read online. We have indexed our Native American mythology section by tribe to make them easier to locate however, variants on the same legend are often told by American Indians from different tribes, especially if those tribes are kinfolk or neighbors to each other. In particular, though these legends come from the Quinaults, the traditional stories of related tribes like the Tillamook or Chehalis tribes are very similar.

Enjoy the stories! If you would like to recommend a Quinault legend for this page or think one of the ones on here should be removed, please let us know.

Misp' (also spelled Musp): A Transformer figure, common to the mythology of many Northwest Coast tribes, who brought balance to the world by using his powers to change people, animals, and the landscape into the forms they have today.

Bluejay (or Blue Jay): The trickster hero of Quinault mythology. Bluejay is generally a benevolent being who is helpful to humankind, but he is also extremely foolish and careless, and stories about him are often humorous or even slapstick in nature.

Recommended Books on Quinault Myth Our organization earns a commission from any book bought through these links

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