As a member of and chairman for the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, I often hear confusion about how tribal governments are structured and decisions are made. It’s not unusual for people to think that all tribes share leadership, opinions and priorities.
There are eight tribes in Kitsap and Clallam counties: Jamestown S’Klallam, Lower Elwha Klallam, Makah, Hoh, Quileute, Quinault Nation, Suquamish, and Port Gamble S’Klallam.
These tribes are separate entities with their own governments, elected officials, laws, services, and priorities. While we consult one another — especially if another tribe’s leadership has experience with a particular issue — one tribe doesn’t have a say in how another operates. Tribes are sovereign nations. This means they have independent authority within their reservation area. The Port Gamble S’Klallam reservation is in the Port Gamble area where our tribe has lived for thousands of years. Emerging evidence indicates the first ancestors were on the Olympic Peninsula as early as 14,000 years ago. We are the First People of this place and our history and identity are intrinsically tied to the area. Our oral traditions and other sources tell us that an ancestral village existed at Port Gamble prior to the Pope & Talbot sawmill.
Tribal governments are structured with a Tribal Council that makes decision on behalf of tribal members, and a chairman of the Tribal Council who oversees operations. Tribal Council members are elected by tribal members to make decisions on governmental policies and regulations, budgets, and strategic planning. The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe has departments devoted to social services, economic development, natural resources, housing, and law enforcement, among others.
Each tribe’s leadership is responsible for setting priorities, which can be based on economics, public need, and input from the community. Tribal governments also must take into account cultural needs. Progress is important, but it’s essential that members of any tribe are able to maintain their ancestral connections by practicing traditional customs such as fishing and shellfish harvesting.
In order to sustain cultural traditions, Port Gamble S’Klallam’s Tribal Council has identified the protection and restoration of Port Gamble Bay as a top priority. This includes supporting and actively working with groups involved in the Kitsap Forest & Bay Project, an effort to conserve more than 6,000 acres and almost two miles of shoreline in North Kitsap County. The conservation lands include the west shoreline of Port Gamble Bay and surrounding lands. Protecting the entire watershed, from the upland forests to the nearshore tidal areas, will have an impact on the health of the bay.
We’re dedicated to the conservation effort and along with our partners have been pursuing sources of funding to help with land acquisition. We support the conservation of open space for future generations.