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Stewards of the Human Landscape
Spring 2001

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*  A Voice for Diversity: Preserving a Native American Homeland in the Pacific Northwest

(image) Illustration of park constituants.

"Environmental problems create winners and losers . . . Losers suffer from lost resources, health, and livelihood. Their powerlessness is often tied to poverty, ethnicity, or religion. "

Barbara Johnston

by Jacilee Wray and Marie Hebert

"It is impossible to understand man without understanding his environment and the forces that have molded him physically and mentally."
–Rachel Carson

The Olympic Peninsula, on Washington State's northwest coast, has been viewed as a vast wilderness, but perhaps vastly diverse better describes its Pacific coastline, rainforests, and mountainous peaks. Glistening lakes and alpine meadows punctuate the landscape, and magnificent rivers, fed by glaciers, run through lush forests below. Equally diverse are the people who have lived here since long before the first Europeans explored the peninsula's coast in the 1780s. Understanding the interactions of these people and their environment is essential to preserving the close to a million acres entrusted to the managers of Olympic National Park. In fact, the Forest Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife, and the state's department of natural resources all have a stake in protecting the peninsula. So do the tribes that retain traditional ties to it. Partnerships are essential, with tribal associations presenting a unique opportunity to understand the relationship between people and the environment.

The Makah, Lower Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S'Klallam,1 Port Gamble S'Klallam, Skokomish, Squaxin, Chehalis, Shoalwater Bay, Quinault, Quileute, and Hoh all live on or near the peninsula. Several of their reservations, ranging from 200 to almost 200,000 acres, border the park. Many aspects of park management relate to the tribal connection to the landscape. In 1990, the park began a research project to look at these traditional ties. The project has provided a compelling amount of information on the relationship between the tribes and the park.

What was discovered, in compiling an annotated bibliography, was a wealth of research that shed new light on the region and its inhabitants. Unpublished material—early anthropological field notes, historic photos, land records and maps, settlers' journals, and archival documents—highlighted indigenous uses of the peninsula's interior unrecognized by popular accounts and, indeed, by most of the non-Indian community. Oral histories filled in the picture of Indian life in the rugged terrain. The mountains were once major travel routes, facilitating trade and other interactions such as marriage alliances that, in turn, provided access to resources and territorial knowledge.

Ethnographic interviews alerted us to ongoing significance of the interior, where people still acquire spiritual power. The place is the reputed home of powerful beings such as Thunderbird, said to have created many of the landforms of the peninsula. These interviews, and walks through the area with tribal members, led to informative discussions about past and present uses of the park, enhancing our perspectives of its cultural landscapes.

The result of the research was an ethnographic overview and assessment that provides park managers with a historical and contemporary foundation for understanding relationships with the tribes, including treaty rights, legislation, and official government policies. Such research, coupled with tribal cooperation fostered by NPS ethnographic initiatives, has facilitated compliance with laws and regulations that call for tribal consultation, such as the National Historic Preservation Act, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Park projects have been enhanced as well; for example, research in advance of removing a dam on the Elwha River enhanced understanding of the waterway's links to the Elwha Klallam Tribe and early homestead families. This goes beyond mere compliance with preservation law.

To facilitate alliances, the park anthropologist and other staff consult with tribal members and native groups such as the Olympic Peninsula Intertribal Cultural Advisory Committee, made up of nine tribes. Where issues concern more than one, the committee is in a position to facilitate communication among themselves as well as with NPS and other agencies. The park anthropologist works closely with members on projects such as the watershed analyses required under the President's Forest Plan, whose goal is to manage forests for the benefit of the entire ecosystem.2

In 1995 the Quileute tribe requested that the park anthropologist and anthropologist Jay Powell assist them with a watershed analysis the Forest Service was conducting on the Sol Duc River. This work considered tribal cultural factors that would not have been sought or even understood without the involvement of the Quileute tribe and their cultural specialists: where traditional plants were once located, the extent of animal habitat in the past compared to today, and—not as quantifiable but just as important—the features of the land that give continued meaning to the tribe's way of life.

The Olympic Peninsula is a diverse ecosystem where American Indians have resided for at least 10,000 years. The knowledge they contribute is extremely valuable for land managers, not only to help them comply with legal mandates, but also to better understand the interconnectedness of people and the landscape. Olympic National Park is one of the many stewards of lands that have cultural importance to tribes. With the ethnography program and the intertribal committee, the park has an exceptional opportunity to understand and protect places of cultural importance, and provide a voice for tribal diversity and identity so that indigenous populations can continue to be guardians of their homeland.

Jacilee Wray is anthropologist at Olympic National Park, 600 East Park Ave., Port Angeles, WA 98362, (360) 452-4501, fax (360) 452-0335. Marie Hebert is chairperson of the Olympic Peninsula Intertribal Cultural Advisory Committee and cultural resources director and council member for the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe.


1. The Jamestown and Port Gamble use of S'Klallam reflects the spelling in the 1855 Treaty of Point No Point; the Lower Elwha Klallam do not use this spelling.

2. Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on Management of Habitat for Late-Successional and Old-Growth Forest Related Species Within the Range of the Northern Spotted Owl, GPO Region 10: U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of Interior, 1994.