The Hero's Journey

Healing Circles writer Roger Fernandes (University of Washington) is from the Lower Elwah S'Klallam reservation located on the Olympic Peninsula. An educator for 30 years, Fernandes has developed the structural model for our curriculum project which is using Hero's Journey stories to teach people health and wellness. He especially acknowledges elders as that primary source of guidance saying, "It's a very important aspect of the journey."

"You need an elder to guide you - to help you to figure things out. In the story, Elder appears to help you. "And so that's the hero's journey of transformation - of transforming from one person who's alone, confused and wandering into a person who has a place in their culture and has an understanding of who they are."

History of the Lower Elwha Klallam People

The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe is the northern-most of the three bands of Klallam Indians. The other two are the Jamestown Klallam and the Port Gamble Klallam. All three live on the northeastern corner of the Olympic Peninsula of western Washington. The Lower Elwha reservation is on the Elwha River a few miles outside of the city of Port Angeles. They are considered coast Salish people and share the cultural traits of the many small tribes in the Puget Sound region, relying on salmon and cedar as the core of their lives.

Their traditional name “nux-klay-um” means “Strong People”. Their mythic creation story tells of how they were created in a rock in the river and are the survivors of a great flood that they escaped from by tying their canoes to a mountain top.

The modern reservation was established long after the Point No point treaty of 1855. Soon after the signing many tribal members bought their own land, but because they were not U.S. citizens they could not hold legal title to their own land. It was not until 1968 that the federal government addressed the condition of the treaty and established the current reservation.

One of the contemporary issues confronting the tribe is the removal of the Elwha Dam which was built in 1910. This dam wiped out the salmon runs and drastically impacted the tribal culture and economy. In fact when the Klallam people tried to gather the carcasses of the salmon that died at the base of the dam trying to make their way home, those caught possessing a salmon were arrested as the state of Washington refused to recognize Klallam fishing rights. The tribe believes that when the dam is finally removed the salmon runs will replenish the river and the Klallam culture.