Lower Elwha Tribal Community


Last Updated: 3 years

The Lower Elwha Tribal Community is a federally recognized nation in Washington state in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. The tribe is part of the larger Klallam culture, one of the Coast Salish peoples.


Official Tribal Name: Lower Elwha Tribal Community


Official Website:

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized

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Formerly known as the Lower Elwha Tribal Community of the Lower Elwha Reservation.

Clallam, Klallam, S’Klallam

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Region: Pacific Northwest

State(s) Today: Washington

Traditional Territory:

The traditional territory of the Klallam is the north and northeast portion of the Olympic Peninsula, in the U.S. state of Washington. They traditionally had several villages in this area. Their historic territory was in the northeast of the Olympic Peninsula, approximately from the Hoko River to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

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 of Port Angeles. 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.

Confederacy: Salish 

Treaties: 1855 Point No Point Treaty

Reservation: Lower Elwha Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land

The traditional villages of the Klallam were originally located inside of what is now the city of Port Angeles. The federal government bought land outside Port Angeles in 1935-36 and persuaded the tribe to relocate there 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. 
Land Area: Today tribal lands include about a thousand acres of land on and near the Elwha River.
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Time Zone: Pacific

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Registered Population Today: As of 2007 there were 776 enrolled members in the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, with 112 living on the reservation.

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Language Dialects: Klallam

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Dictionary: Adeline Smith (1918-2013), worked with a noted linguist to develop the Klallam language alphabet and the first Klallam dictionary, published in 2012. She contributed 12,000 words and phrases to the dictionary, becoming its main source.


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Related Tribes:

The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe is one of the four Klallam tribes. Three are based in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and one in British Columbia, Canada. There are also Klallam people on several other reservations in the US. They are also related to the Sook and other Tribes of British Columbia, and to most of the Tribes of the Puget Sound Area.

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Tribe History:

In 1938 the Olympic National Park was established to protect the upper Elwha and other rivers, mountains, and other areas of the northern Olympic Peninsula. This has preserved important habitat but dams built on the lower river in the early 20th century altered the ecology by preventing the annual salmon runs. By the late 20th century, the number of salmon returning to the river had dropped from nearly 400,000 to less than 4,000.

The Tribe collaborated with others in the Pacific Northwest in pressing its treaty rights, including to traditional fishing. They long depended on salmon for a major part of their diet. Salmon runs on the Elwha River had been sharply reduced due to the barriers of two dams constructed in the early 20th century, and the Tribe sought their share of salmon and other fish. By the Boldt Decision of 1979, the tribes’ treaty rights were affirmed and they were granted half the salmon runs. An annual process of consultation and negotiation over fishing has developed in collaboration with the National Marine Fisheries Service of NOAA, and commercial and sports fishermen, to maintain sustainable fisheries.

From the beginning, the Tribe opposed the dams on the Elwha, and increasingly as their negative environmental effects became obvious, removal of the dams was supported as the only way to restore the salmon fisheries in the upper Elwha River. The Tribe worked with national and regional environmental groups to lobby state representatives and Congress, ultimately gaining passage of the 1992 Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act.

This has been the largest restoration project undertaken by the National Park Service after the Restoration of the Everglades and the Tribe has been one of the stakeholders consulted in its development and implementation.

Between 2011 and 2014, two dams built in the early 20th century were removed from the Elwha River as part of a major restoration project long advocated by the Tribe. This will enable the building up of the beaches and delta at the mouth of the river, as well as restore salmon runs and improve the ecology of the river and watershed.

As lands were revealed, in August 2012 the tribe rediscovered their long-submerged sacred creation site near the river. In addition, an archeological site has been found along the river with artifacts revealing 8,000 years of human habitation.

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