Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe commemorates 30 years in words, images

Pictured here is the Clallam Indian Council, held in Jamestown in 1925. The men in the photo determined who of the S’Klallam people qualified to receive payment in the Clallam Relief Act of 1925, a key point for the tribe in proving an established relationship with the U.S. government that eventually led to federal recognition in the early 1980s.
Shown here are (back row, from left) Sam Ulmer (Lower Elwha Tribe), Tommy Lowe (Jamestown), Wilson Johnson (Jamestown), Billy Hall (Jamestown), Peter Jackson (Port Gamble), Ernest Sampson (Lower Elwha) and Johnson Williams (Jamestown); (middle row, from left), Joseph Allen (Jamestown), David Prince (Jamestown), Superintendent Dickinson, Sammy Charles (Lower Elwha) and Benny George (Port Gamble); with (front row (from left) Charlie Hopie (Lower Elwha), wife of superintendent Dickinson (name unavailable), daughter of superintendent Dickinson (name unavailable), Tim Pysht (Lower Elwha) and Joe Anderson (Lower Elwha).
Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution National Anthropological Archives, from Glass Negatives of Indians, collected by the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1850s-1930s

Prior to efforts in the mid-1970s to establish government-to-government recognition with the United States, citizens of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe didn’t need a document to know they were a distinct people.

“We knew that we existed as a community (but) we didn’t think of it as a government,” said W. Ron Allen, Tribal Council chairman and CEO.


This Thursday, Feb. 10, marks the 30th anniversary of the U.S. government officially recognizing the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe as a sovereign nation.


Since achieving federally recognized status, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s budget has grown from less than $25,000 to $24.5 million in 2010, becoming the second largest employer in Clallam County.


To celebrate the tribe’s efforts and success, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe has released a commemorative book, “Thirty Years and Time Immemorial: Commemorating the 30th Anniversary of the Official Federal Recognition of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, 1981-2011.”


The 40-page, color- and black-and-white-illustrated edition details some of the tribe’s history, from the key 1855 Treaty of Point No Point — one that saw S’Klallam, Chimakum and Skokomish tribes cede ownership of land in exchange for small reservations/and or payment from the federal government — to Jamestown citizens who made efforts to ensure proper treaty rights in the late 20th century, to present-day tribal life.


“We didn’t know we were poor (back then); we were so family and community driven, we didn’t think about it,” Allen said.


“Families started to ask us for help (with health care and funding for education). Before we were recognized, we couldn’t.”

Getting the recognition

In the mid-1970s, the United States government began to pave the way for tribes to re-establish an official government-to-government relationship. The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe tested this new policy by filing a Petition for Recognition as an Indian Tribe in 1975 and was made complete on Feb. 10, 1981.

“Back then we really didn’t know what we were doing or how to get it done,” Allen writes in the book’s foreword. “Our success was primarily due to our persistence and determination.”


The book details why the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe felt a need to be recognized and illuminates the historical data required to prove that the tribe met the seven criteria established by the federal government in order for any tribe to earn full recognition.


Those criteria include the following:
• A substantial, independent and continuous tribe since 1900
• A predominant portion of the tribe comprises a distinct community from historical times until present
• Proof of political influence or authority over tribal citizens
• A copy of the group’s governing document (including membership criteria)
• Proof that citizens descend from a historical Indian tribe that functions as a single political entity
• That the tribe is composed of people who are not members of another acknowledged North American Indian tribe

• That neither the tribe nor its citizens are subject of legislation that terminates or forbids a federal relationship.


In return, the tribe asked for protection of treaty rights, eligibility for federal programs and services, status in the Indian Reorganization Act and inclusion in Bureau of Indian Affairs budget requests to Congress.

The book comes together

Betty Oppenheimer, tribe publications specialist, said citizens of the tribe began discussing how to commemorate the 30th anniversary about a year ago.


Oppenheimer put the book together, connecting pieces of the tribe’s history with historical documents, pictures from tribe resources and beyond — including the Smithsonian — and with artwork from the tribe’s master carver Dale Faulstich.


“There was a ton of stuff to read through and understand,” Oppenheimer said. “They had to basically tell their entire history to the federal government, what existed before (the 1855 treaty) and after. They went through everything they could possibly find.”


What citizens of the tribe found and eventually proved is that the federal government had recognized the Jamestown S’Klallam for years.


“As a sovereign nation, you have a government-to-government relationship that enabled the tribe to apply for funding that people, as a group of people living at Jamestown, couldn’t access,” Oppenheimer said.
With the book, Oppenheimer notes, “in 30 years, people can see the tribe has come really far.”

Big business

The tribe owns and operates 7 Cedars Casino, The Cedars at Dungeness golf course, The Longhouse Market and Deli/Chevron fueling station, Jamestown Family Health Clinic, Jamestown Family Dental Clinic, James-town Construction, James-town Excavating, Jamestown Health and Medical Supply, Northwest Native Expressions Gallery and more, and has plans to expand its Blyn campus with a resort in the next five years.


In addition to its business enterprises, the tribe owns Railroad Bridge Park on the Dungeness River. The tribe’s higher education fund currently supports 36 tribal students who are pursuing higher education at colleges across the country, providing more than $500,000 for tuition, room, board, transportation and books. The tribe also gives back to the local community — more than $250,000 in cash contributions in 2009, in addition to offering space for many local civic events to take place.


“We started like any other small business,” Allen said, noting the tribe’s first contract was to help clear trails for Olympic National Park; the second, selling fireworks.


“After that it was just trial and error,” Allen said. “When the gaming industry hit in the mid-1990s, that just launched it.”


Instead of opting to live separate by way of a reservation, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe chose to purchase land and stay connected with nontribal citizens.


“(They were) intertwined with the pioneers, not apart,” Oppenheimer said.


Said Allen, “We integrated in a huge way (but) we retained our cultural identity. We feel that we’re celebrating our unique existence. I like to say it’s a win-win proposition. We’re all better off.”
The tribe hosts a luncheon for tribal citizens on Feb. 12 to celebrate the anniversary.

Reach Michael Dashiell at


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