'Quiet waters' no longer

For the past century, translation of the word Sequim was thought to mean "quiet waters."

A tribal linguist at the University of North Texas says that translation is wrong.

Dr. Timothy Montler, a research professor in linguistics at North Texas, has spent years researching and documenting the Klallam language, working with the last few native speakers on the North Olympic Peninsula. His Klallam Language website (see box on Page 4) is used by Klallam language teachers locally.

Montler says the term Sequim comes from the Klallam language. He says the prefix of the word means "reason, thing, or place for," that the root means "shoot" (with gun or bow and arrow) and the ending means, "go to."

"There is no doubt about this analysis," Montler said. "It is clear to native speakers and has been confirmed by elders at Port Gamble (Martha John), Jamestown (Elizabeth Prince), and Lower Elwha (Bea Charles and Adeline Smith)."

Members of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe recently announced the clarification.

"People come to a place like Sequim and want to know what it means," said Betty Oppenheimer, publications specialist for the tribe. "Many people have come to learn it was 'quiet waters.' (Once) it got into whatever publication it was in, it just took off."

According to, the name Sequim evolved from either a Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe word meaning "quiet waters" or the name of a local wild onion that supplemented the tribe's diet of clams, crabs and salmon.

Several months ago, when Jamestown S'Klallam tribal leaders learned of Sequim's meaning, they brought it before their culture committee, which agreed that it should be made public.

"It makes sense," Oppenheimer said. "It's a prairie. It's a hunting place."

Preserving words, identity

Montler began working with the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe in 1992 to preserve what was then their rapidly disappearing native language. At the time, just eight tribal members had grown up speaking the language.

In 2007, Montler received a $317,000 Documenting Endangered Languages grant, through a joint program of the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, to create a Klallam dictionary and electronic text archive.

"A native language is an emblem of an ethnic identity," Montler said. "It is the beautiful, complex product of thousands of years of development. Use of the Klallam language went into decline after World War II, when tribal members began learning English as a first language. When that last generation of native speakers started to pass, the community became aware of the urgent need to save the language."

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