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, “emerge 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 “care 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.
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.”
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: “Drenched in over 12 feet of rain a year, Olympic’s west side valleys flourish with North America’s 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.”
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.
“For 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’d 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).
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 “Frankenfish,” 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.”
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 (1937–2000) 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 Indians from 1981-85 and, from 1984 until his passing, chairman of public policy at the Center 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.