The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe (Nəxʷsƛ̕ áy̕əm “strong people”) is a federally recognized Native American nation in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. The tribe is part of the larger Klallam culture, part of the Coast Salish peoples.
This Tribe has its own constitution and government. Not only does the Tribe govern itself, but many Tribal administrative departments oversee the everyday function of the reservation and provide for Tribal members. The Tribe’s current land base was initially acquired by the United States in trust for the Tribe in 1935-36 and these lands were proclaimed as the Lower Elwha Reservation in 1968. The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe is one of the four Klallam peoples, who are based in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Their historic territory was in the northeast of the Olympic Peninsula, approximately from the Hoko River to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
In historic and ancient times, the Lower Elwha Klallam occupied several villages along the Elwha River, including on the bay sheltered by Ediz Hook, the area of present-day Port Angeles. They claimed a rock along the river as their creation site, calling it a word that in Klallam means coiled basket, for its shape. This was known as the place where the Creator “bathed and blessed the Klallam people and other tribes,” according to Jamie Valadez, a Klallam language instructor. It was known as a place for vision quests. This site was submerged under a lake created by construction of the Elwha Dam in 1913. Tribal members recounted it to anthropologists and other researchers in the early 20th century.
In the late 18th and 19th centuries, the Tribe suffered high fatalities from infectious diseases carried from European traders, as they had no immunity to these new diseases, such as smallpox and measles. Their numbers were markedly reduced by the late 19th century.
The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe was recognized by the United States in the 1855 Point No Point Treaty. In the 20th century, the federal government bought land outside Port Angeles and persuaded the tribe to relocate there in 1935-36 from their property in the city, to allow for industrial development along the waterfront. In 1968 the land at the mouth of the Elwha River was designated as the Lower Elwha Reservation.
In August 2003 the site of an ancient Klallam village, Tse-whit-zen, was discovered during a construction project on former tribal land in the city. The significance of the nearly intact village site, hundreds of human remains, and thousands of artifacts led to the state abandoning the construction project at that site. Based on radiocarbon dating, the village site appears to have been occupied for nearly 2700 years. The Lower Elwha Klallam lived there until the 1930s, when the federal government persuaded them to move outside the city to a reservation four miles west. The state has since returned 10 acres of land to the Tribe and leased it another 6 acres.
The reservation covers a small area near Port Angeles, WA. The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe resides in the Lower Elwha River Valley and adjacent bluffs on the north coast of the Olympic Peninsula just west of Port Angeles, Washington. As recognized by the United States in 1855 Treaty of Point No Point, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe has lived in this area since time immemorial. Today tribal lands include about a thousand acres of land on and near the Elwha River.
The Tribe traditionally spoke the Klallam language, one related to other Coast Salish languages. In projects already underway, a Klallam dictionary was published in 2012, with major contributions by tribal elders such as Adeline Smith. Language classes are reviving use of Klallam.
Principal industries: wood products, agriculture, tourism. The Lower Elwha Klallam tribe expanded its economic reach in a $3 million convenience store-gas station project on U.S. Highway 101 and Dry Creek road about 2 miles from the city of Port Angeles. The $4 million Elwha River Casino was completed in 2009.
The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe is a sovereign, federally recognized Indian Nation, with its own constitution and government. The Lower Elwha Tribal Council, or Business Committee, which consists of five elected officials serving staggering three-year-terms, governs the Tribe.
As of 2007 there are 776 enrolled members of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, of these, 112 live on the Lower Elwha Reservation. This is managed by the tribe and located at the mouth of the Elwha River, 48°8′19″N 123°33′11″W, about 4 miles west of Port Angeles.
City: Port Angeles, population 17,260. Elevation 36.
County: Clallam, population 53,400; Native American, 2,275, 58% of nonwhite population, 4% of total. 1,752 square miles.
Rainfall 24.6, temperatures 42-55 (at Port Angeles).
Clallam County’s assessed value averages $1,554 per acre.