Squaxin Island Tribe Gains Access to Ancestral Lands

For generations, the people of the Squaxin Island Tribe lived near the waters of the seven southernmost inlets of the Salish Sea – rich environments where ancestors fished, harvested, worshipped and lived their lives.

Now, through a transaction with the forestry company Port Blakely, the tribe once again has access to more than 1,000 acres of ancestral lands including tidelands and shoreline.

We are honored and grateful to reclaim these lands and for the return of the shoreline. The Squaxin people lived and stewarded this very land and waterway for thousands of years before it was taken from us in the mid to late 1800s,” Squaxin Island Tribal Chair Kris Peters said. It is honorable of the leadership at Port Blakely to recognize this injustice and offer this land to come back to us.

“These beautiful and bountiful tidelands and beaches will be something all Squaxins can enjoy. It will undoubtedly be a place to reconnect with our ancestors in ceremony, harvest, and other tribal gatherings. My spirit is singing today. Hawadubš cələp, thank you!”

The agreement between the tribe and Port Blakely was announced in December. The tribe agreed to purchase about 875 acres of upland working forest from Port Blakely for an undisclosed price; in a separate agreement, Port Blakely returned the adjacent two miles of waterfront and 125 acres of tidelands. The latter agreement restores the tribe’s access to Puget Sound and nearby shellfish beds, a natural resource that has been central to the tribe for thousands of years for sustenance, economic and ceremonial purposes. 

“Not only have we regained access to 125 acres of tidelands and beaches for ceremonial and harvest, we now have roughly 875 acres of upland working forest resources to manage for our community,” said Joseph Peters, Squaxin Island Tribe natural resources policy representative. “These forest resources will provide our Squaxin gatherers with berries, bark, roots, medicine and spiritual connection with watershed.”

“The aquatic creatures that sustain us and give us life offer much more than mere physical nourishment; they provide spiritual sustenance as well,” the Squaxin Island Heritage Committee said in a statement on the Squaxin Island Museum website. 

The tribe and Port Blakely previously built up a relationship over years, with the tribe purchasing small parcels of land before last month’s larger agreement. 

Both Port Blakely and our family owners recognize the cultural significance of this land to the Squaxin Island Tribe, land they were unfairly forced to surrender more than 150 years ago,” said Mike Warjone, president of Port Blakely US Forestry. We are grateful for the relationships weve built with the Tribal council and hope this agreement allows them to build a legacy for generations to come. We hope other landowners will look for ways to work together with Tribal communities to honor the heritage of the original stewards of the land.”

Property along Skookum Inlet has been acquired by the Squaxin Island Tribe from Port Blakely. Photo provided by Theresa Henderson, Squaxin Island information officer. Story: Trevor Pyle.