Washington Native American Tribe Has Ancestral Land Returned by Lumber Company

by Taylor Cunningham
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A 157-year-old lumber company is honoring its pledge to reunite a Washington Native American Tribe with their ancestral land.

This month, the US and New Zealand-based Port Blakely Companies gifted the Squaxin Island Tribe more than 1,000 acres of land around the Little Skookum Inlet in Mason County that the company took over a century ago.

The land includes two miles of coastline property and 125 acres of tidelands near southern Puget Sound. Before the lumber company took the land, the tribe had thrived there for centuries.

“We are honored and grateful to reclaim these lands and for the return of the shoreline,” said Tribal Chair Kris Peters. “The Squaxin people lived and stewarded this very land and waterway for thousands of years before it was taken from us.”

According to the deal, the tribe will also soon purchase around 875 acres of forest land. However, neither the company nor the tribe has disclosed the selling price.

Per a December 14th press release, the gift is part of a “landback” campaign that hopes to return thousands of acres of property back to not only Washington Native American tribes, but to all tribes native to the United States.

Port Blakely Took the Land From the Washington Native American Tribe in 1854

Due to a treaty, Port Blakely Companies has owned the land since 1854.

For thousands of years prior, the Squaxin people had been living off the hearty Pacific Northwest shellfish beds. And the tribe has a strong spiritual and cultural connection to the Puget Sound.

And this month’s gifting will once again give the Squaxin’s direct access to the Puget Sound and the shellfish beds.

As president of Port Blakely Mike Warjone told the Seattle Times, the company decided to return the land because a spoken “land acknowledgment” would not have been enough. Because in that case, Port Blakely would only recognize tribal presence and stewardship. And the people would have no legal rights to the property.

“Just an acknowledgment about the place would ring hollow if the only owner of record was still around. And the people it was stolen from were alive and well, and right up the street,” Warjone said. “The obvious thing to do was simply give it back.”

Tribe chairman Kirs Peters also spoke with the Seattle Times. And he shared that his people will leave the land in its natural state.

“I can’t wait to drum, and sing, and dance out on those beaches, just like our people did hundreds, and thousands of years ago,” he said. “To me, it is a very spiritual thing; it fills my heart.”

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