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.