Native people have always been adaptive. We’ve had to be. It is this flexibility that has allowed the S’Klallam to survive.
In my last column, I discussed my Tribe’s relationship to the Port Gamble Mill. After the S’Klallam were moved across the bay to Point Julia, a new village was built using, in part, lumber provided by the mill. This was a part of what the mill owners promised when my ancestors moved: lumber for homes and jobs as long as they were available.
While early residents of Point Julia adopted the housing and clothing styles of the newcomers, these often didn’t protect from the elements. Many S’Klallam became sick, some died. There are numerous stories of families losing young children to the damp, miserable conditions as well as illnesses against which we had no immunities, brought by the white settlers.
Our cultural ability to fish, shellfish, and hunt protected us from starvation. People also shared what they had, so if a family, for whatever reason, wasn’t able to provide for themselves, neighbors and friends stepped in to help. No matter how day-to-day living changed, the core S’Klallam values of family and culture remained. This spirit endures today.
Another aspect of life on Point Julia that closely mirrors today: multiple generations living under one roof. Our culture puts an emphasis on taking care of one another and this often means parents, grandparents, children, aunts, uncles, and other extended family all living together.
The new village at Point Julia was also very different in that it was meant to be permanent. The structures and the homes were built to stay put, not to be packed up and moved from camp-to-camp. A church and a school followed. In fact, the school was made possible by a petition to then-superintendent David H. Wolfle, who granted permission for a new school district and board. Today, many of our young students attend Wolfle Elementary.
“Plumbing” also eventually came to the village at Point Julia: a gravity-fed system that would deliver water to each home. Whereas S’Klallam used to travel seasonally to trade, hunt or fish, this new, growing village gave them reason to stay in one place for long periods of time. In some ways, it was this permanence, which also included employment at the mill, that kept the S’Klallam together on the shores of Port Gamble Bay.
Into the 1900s, S’Klallam remained the predominant language of the people at Point Julia. Today, while many of our elders remember their grandparents speaking S’Klallam, there are no Port Gamble S’Klallam left who are fluent in the language.
This is a side effect of Indian boarding schools. While some chose to go, many other children were taken from their homes by social workers and placed in federally funded boarding schools. At these schools, many Indian children lost pieces of their identity as they were forbidden to speak their native tongue or use their given names. It is unknown how many S’Klallam children were removed from their families.
Today, Point Julia remains a treasure to the Port Gamble S’Klallam. Many of our cultural celebrations take place here and it is an essential link that ties our past with our present. It was home to the Port Gamble S’Klallam for decades before we were allowed to own land or were given the opportunity to have a reservation of our own … a story that I’ll save for next time.
— Jeromy Sullivan is chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. Contact him at email@example.com.