Remembering Jake Jones, mentor, leader and friend | Noo-Kayet

On Nov. 8, our Tribe laid to rest Gerald “Jake” Jones, a man who was a mentor and inspiration to everyone who was lucky enough to know him.

Jake was the type of person whose actions and attitude in life will far outlive his time on this Earth. His warmth and humility could put anyone at ease. He treated everyone the same, no matter who they were or where they came from. Most of all, he was kind, loving, and curious.

A death in a community as small and close as ours is always felt, but the loss of someone like Jake causes ripples that will be felt for a long time.

Jake served on the Tribal Council during periods from the 1970s through the 1990s. He was chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe from 1987 to 1991 and then again from 1993 to 1998. Quite bluntly, without him—and the work of those he served with—we would not be the Tribe we are today.

The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe is self-governing with our own programs for education, health care, housing, natural resources, and others that we manage for the betterment of our community. This hasn’t always been the case; in fact, it’s quite recent, and it was Jake’s leadership that paved the way for us to gain this control.

Obtaining self-governance was no easy feat. There were negotiations with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Programs had to be started from scratch or redesigned. Budgets that accounted for even the most minuscule line item had to be created. The process took years, but what Jake helped start was finished: on Jan. 1, 1992, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe became one of the first 15 Tribes in the United States to implement self-governance.

Jake was a man who knew how to get things done. During his time on the council, dirt reservation roads were paved; the gym, Tribal Center, and the reservation’s original sewer system were built. He even helped develop our judicial system, complete with courts and a police department. Jake, himself, was once a police officer.

Somehow, in 1989, Jake found time to carve his first canoe, which he skippered in the Paddle to Seattle, which would grow into the annual Tribal Journeys. For 1993’s Paddle to Bella Bella, our Tribe commissioned Jake to carve an even bigger canoe, which is still in use today by our Canoe Family.

Jake’s canoe projects helped revitalize the art of carving among our people. After he retired in 1999, he could often be found in the carving shed across from the Tribal Center working alongside his brother, Floyd, or mentoring young people, like his grandson, Will. A master carver, Jake’s work lives on all over the reservation. One of his last pieces — a story pole titled “Chief” — was raised at The Point Hotel this past March. Jake said “Chief” represents “the S’Klallam Tribal lands, waters, and Olympic Mountains.” It prominently features Kloomachin, the killer whale that is in our Tribe’s crest. I am so happy that Jake, his wife, June, and several of his siblings, children, and grandchildren were able to be at the dedication ceremony in celebration. Jake and June were married 62 years.

During his life, Jake inspired so many. He was a leader and an educator. A mentor and a friend. A person who lived with passion and purpose. He was a voice of reason, comfort, and, sometimes, dissent when it was needed the most.

We will miss you, Jake.

— Jeromy Sullivan is chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. Contact him at