Bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north, and by Hood Canal to the east, Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula has always been a rural area whose residents have been dependent on local resources. The location is remote and scenic, with more than 200 miles of rugged coastline, which has long been the place of many S’Klallam villages.
Inhabiting this area for more than 10,000 years, the S’Klallams possessed a rich social and religious culture based on the abundant natural resources of the Northwest Coast. They moved from village to village in their traditional territory during the spring, summer and fall, for fishing and resource gathering, and settled into more permanent longhouses for the winter months. The inhabitants hunted game and subsisted on the wealth of shellfish, herring, and salmon. They were craftspeople skilled in woodcarving and basket making, and they fashioned ceremonial masks, serving dishes and utensils, and storage boxes from cedar, and woven mats, rope, and clothing from cedar bark.
“S’Klallam” derives from “nuxsklai’yem,” the original Salish language name for the S’Klallam people meaning “strong people.” The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe is one of three S’Klallam bands; the others are the Lower Elwha Klallam and the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribes.
S’Klallam contact with Europeans began in the 1700s and increased in the 1800s, after the establishment of Hudson’s Bay Company trading posts in the Northwest. The S’Klallam people traded at Fort Langley, Fort Nisqually, and Fort Victoria, which were established in the 1820s, 1830s, and 1840s, respectively.
The S’Klallam Tribe entered into the Point No Point Treaty with the United States in 1855, but resisted removal to the reservation of the Twana people at Skokomish. They remained in their traditional areas, and in 1874 the S’Klallams from the village at Dungeness privately purchased 210-acres of land, establishing Jamestown. The population of Jamestown at the time was around 100, with about 17 families buying into the acreage. Citizens of the tribe supported themselves by gardening, farming, fishing, and working in the pulp mills in the surrounding area.
In the 1930s, the Tribe was given the choice of moving to the reservations purchased for the other two S’Klallam Tribes or remaining where they were, unrecognized. The Jamestown people chose to stay on the land they had bought themselves. Tribal citizens received services from the federal government until 1953 when the government ceased recognizing them as Indians. Beginning in the 1950s, the three S’Klallam Tribes combined to litigate land claims and fishing rights. In cases that went to the Supreme Court of the United States, the S’Klallams ultimately regained the fishing rights they had been granted in the Point No Point Treaty.
Facing increasing problems in the areas of fishing rights, health care, and education due to lack of federal recognition as a Tribal entity, the Jamestown Tribe began an intensive effort to obtain recognition in 1974 and adopted a constitution in 1975. They received federal recognition on February 10, 1981. Since then, the Tribe has pursued land acquisition and economic development, and providing health, social service and educational benefits to its citizens.
Seafood harvesting and sale has been a longstanding Tribal business in various forms. Starting with intertribal trade, then sales to local pioneers from the beach at Jamestown, the Tribe continued with seafood sales by individual Tribal commercial fishermen through the 20th century, as well as an early iteration of Jamestown Seafood that operated in Dungeness Bay in the 1980s and 90s, selling oysters, clams, crab and geoduck. Since then, the Tribe has focused on geoduck diving and oyster aquaculture.
The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe has long been recognized as a progressive Tribe, now wholeheartedly rooted in the 21st century, but with a deep connection to their traditional resources, history and culture, which inform the present and serve as the foundation of their success.