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Quileute (tribe)

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Subject: List of ethnic groups, July 1, 1855, List of treaties, Olympic National Park, Quinault people, Classification of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Prunella (plant), Hoh River, Bogachiel River
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Quileute (tribe)

The Quileute /ˈkwɪlt/,[1] also known as the Quillayute /kwɨˈl.t/, are a Native American people in western Washington state in the United States, currently numbering approximately 2000. The Quileute people settled onto the Quileute Indian Reservation (47°54′23″N 124°37′30″W / 47.90639°N 124.62500°W / 47.90639; -124.62500) after signing the Quinault Treaty in 1855. It is located near the southwest corner of Clallam County, Washington at the mouth of the Quillayute River on the Pacific coast. The reservation's main population center is the community of La Push, Washington. The 2000 census reported an official resident population of 371 people on the reservation, which has a land area of 4.061 km² (1.5678 sq mi, or 1,003.4 acres).They have their own government inside the United States that consists of a tribal council with staggered terms. The current tribal council consists of: Carol Hatch (chair), Tony Foster (vice-chair), DeAnna Hobson (secretary), and Anna Rose Counsell (treasurer).

The Quileute language belongs to the Chimakuan family of languages among Northwest Coast indigenous peoples. The Quileute language is one of a kind, as the only related aboriginal people to the Quileute, the Chimakum, were wiped out by Chief Seattle and the Suquamish people during the 1860s. The Quileute language is one of only 6 known languages lacking nasal sounds (i.e., m and n).[2]

Like many Northwest Coast natives, in pre-Colonial times the Quileute relied on fishing from local rivers and the Pacific Ocean for food and built plank houses (longhouses) to protect themselves from the harsh, wet winters west of the Cascade Mountains. The Quileute, along with the Makah, were once great whalers.


Historically the Quileutes were very talented builders and craftsmen. Like many other tribes in the region, they were excellent boat makers. They could make canoes for whaling, which could hold tons of cargo and many men. They had cedar canoes ranging in size from small boats that could hold two people to giant vessels up to 58 meters long and capable of holding up to 6,000 pounds. The modern clipper ship's hull uses a design very much like the canoes used by the Quileutes. The Quileutes used the resources from the land to make tools and other items. In the region, almost everything was made out of wood. Necessities like utensils, clothing, weapons, and even paints were made from the natural resources available to them. The Quileute Tribe is best known, as artists and craftsmen at least, for their woven baskets and dog hair blankets. The tribe would raise specially bred, woolly dogs for their hair, which they would spin and weave into blankets. They would also weave incredibly fine baskets that were so tightly woven that they could hold water. They could even boil water in some of them. Another example of their craftsmanship was the waterproof skirts and hats that they would make, using cedar, to shield against the heavy rainfall in the region.


They believed that each person had their own guardian and they would pray to it, along with the sun and Tsikáti (the universe). Much of their original religion was lost and forgotten after the Europeans came. James Island, an island visible from First Beach, has played a role in all aspects of Quileute beliefs and culture. Originally called "A-Ka-Lat" ("Top of the Rock"), it was used as a fortress to keep opposing tribes out and served as a burial ground for chiefs.

Told much in Quileute folklore, the Quileutes descended from wolves. Quileute myths proclaim that the two sided mythical character known as Dokibatt and K’wa’iti was responsible for creating the first ever person of the Quileute tribe by transforming a wolf. This creation story takes on a life of its own. In the beginning there were five tribal societies that represented the elk hunter, the whale hunter, the fisherman, the weather predictor, and the medicine man. The medicine man honored the creator with the wolf dance. Quileute folklore is still very much alive in the area of the Quileute Nation near La Push, inhabited by many descendants of the original tribe.[3]


Main article: Quileute language

The Quileute tribe speaks a language called Quileute or Quillayute which is part of the Chimakuan family of languages. The Chimakum, who also spoke a Chimakuan language (called Chemakum, Chimakum, or Chimacum) were the only other group of people to speak a language from this language family. The Quileute language is still in use today, though it is an endangered language. It is spoken only by tribal elders at La Push, and some of the Makah.

A unique feature of the Quileute language is the absence of nasal consonants, which are found in almost all other spoken languages of the world.

The tribe is now trying to prevent the loss of the language by teaching it in the Quileute Tribal School using books written for the students by the tribal elders.

Relationship with the white settlers

The Quileute relationship with the white European and American settlers was similar to many other tribes' experiences. The first contact occurred in 1775 when a Spanish ship missed its landing and the Quileutes took them as slaves. Therefore, right from the start, the Quileutes were looked upon by Europeans as vicious. This happened again in 1787 with a British ship and in 1808 with a Russian ship. The first official negotiations with Americans occurred in 1855 when Isaac I. Stevens and the Quileute signed the Treaty of Olympia. It said that the Quileute people needed to relocate to the Quinault reservation.

"ARTICLE 1. The said tribes and bands hereby cede, relinquish, and convey to the United States all their right, title, and interest in and to the lands and country occupied by them…"

Article 11 of the Treaty of Olympia was a single sentence:

"ARTICLE 11. The said tribes and bands agree to free all slaves now held by them, and not to purchase or acquire others hereafter."

This article took away an integral part of the culture of the Northwest Coastal tribes, the rights to possessions and slaves. Their culture had been focused on possessions and they had always owned slaves, but upon entering the U.S. they were forced to give up a key part of their unique history and culture. Later, in 1882, A.W. Smith came to La Push to teach the native children. He made a school there and started change the names of the people from tribal names to ones from the bible. In 1889, after years of this not being enforced, President Cleveland gave the Quileute tribe the La Push reservation. 252 residents moved there and in 1894, 71 people from the Hoh River got their own reservation. Unfortunately, in 1889 a settler who wanted the land at La Push started a fire that burned down all the houses on the reservation, along with destroying all the artifacts from the days before the Europeans came.

The Quileute tribe in fiction

The highly fictionalized version of the tribe features prominently in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. In the books, some members of the Quileute tribe are capable of shapeshifting into wolves, and they are enemies of the vampires. Chief among Twilight's many Quileute characters are main character Jacob Black, his father Billy, and members of Jacob's werewolf pack. It features prominently in all four Twilight books.

In Susan Sharpe's 1991 book Spirit Quest, eleven-year-old Aaron Singer spends part of his summer vacation on the Quileute Indian Reservation in Washington, where he becomes friends with Robert, a Quileute boy. At the encouragement of his family, who no longer incorporate many of their traditions into daily life, Robert attends tribal school to learn Quileute language and culture. At Aaron's urging, the boys go together on their version of a "spirit quest", where Aaron finds and saves a trapped eagle. Though he admires and respects Robert's culture, Aaron wistfully realizes that he can never be a part of it the way Robert is. Aaron's initially romantic view is replaced by deeper understanding.

In John J. Nance's 2005 Saving Cascadia the tribe plays a minor role in the book, being the southern neighbors to the fictional Quaalatch Nation who owned Cascadia Island. Also the namesake of the Quileute Quiet Zone, a fictional area of the Cascadia Subduction Zone so named for the lack of tremors in the area, hinting to a great buildup of locked pressure, the future source of the 'Big One'.


  • Quileute Reservation, Washington United States Census Bureau
  • History," Quileute Nation, April 23, 2008[4]
  • Joahnsen, Bruce Elliot. Native Peoples of North America, Vol. 2
  • Powell, James V. "Quileute", Smithsonian Encyclopedia, Vol. 7: Northwest Indians
  • Silverberg, Robert. The Home of the Red Man: Indian America Before Columbus. pg. 214. New York Graphic Society: 1963
  • Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian, 1907–1930, vol. 9, pg. 148[5]
  • Quileute Indian Tribe,"[6]
  • "Tribal Council/Departments". Quileute Nation[7]
  • "North American Indian Bibliography: Northwest Coast"
  • Leggatt, Judith and Kristin Burnett. "Biting Bella: Treaty Negotiation, Quileute History, and Why 'Team Jacob' Is Doomed to Lose" in Nancy Reagin (ed.) Twilight and History. New York: Wiley & Sons, 2010


External links

  • Official Quileute Tribe page - Quileute Natural Resources
  • Forks-Web - Quileute Tribe page
  • University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections – The Pacific Northwest Olympic Peninsula Community Museum A web-based museum showcasing aspects of the rich history and culture of Washington State's Olympic Peninsula communities. Features cultural exhibits, curriculum packets and a searchable archive of over 12,000 items that includes historical photographs, audio recordings, videos, maps, diaries, reports and other documents.
  • , Vol. 9
  • La Push, the location of the Quileute Tribe’s reservation
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