Klallam Tribal Heritage Center Expands Artifact Exhibit in Port Angeles
by Dale Wilson
Frances Charles; Chairwoman of the Elwha Tribe announces the expansion of their unique display of Klallam artifacts opening December 4th at 6:00 pm at the Elwha Klallam Heritage Center located at First and Peabody, downtown Port Angeles.
Beginning in December eight new items will be in place in the Heritage Center’s Great Hall. “We are excited to bring back more artifacts from the C̕ixʷícən exhibit.” said Suzie Bennett; manager of the Heritage Center. “We’re hoping new artifacts and stories will give a better insight as to who the Klallam people are” she continued.
Approximately nine hundred years before the birth of Christ there was a thriving culture here on the Olympic Peninsula. Villages were spread around the modern day Puget Sound enjoying a mufti-faceted cultural milieu, trading with wide-spread villages from Southern California to the interior of present day Canada.
“C̕ixʷícən” is the name of the historic village, pronounced “Ch-weet-son.” In the Klallam language it means, “Inner Harbor.”
Who were these hunter/gatherer/artist/statesmen/pioneers of the Great Northwest? Today they are called Klallam; “The Strong People.”
Their history and culture surrounds us now even though their numbers are tragically lessened. When the Europeans arrived they brought a host of biological agents for which the Klallam people had no immunities. The onset of smallpox and other diseases decimated the indigenous population within the first generation after contact.
Already on display are inscription stones where ancient craftsmen drew symbols of their history and illuminated their way of life here 2,700 years ago in what is now present day Port Angeles.
Even as their culture was dug from the tidal flats at the base of Ediz Hook the ancient culture’s present-day representatives were among the workers watching as gigantic excavators unearthed their ancient burial grounds revealing the high state of art and culture left to honor the long dead.
The Elwha Klallam Heritage Center in downtown Port Angeles houses but a small collection of the magnificent art lifted from the earth. Soon that collection will double as more items of great cultural significance are brought to the exhibit for study and appreciation.
The Klallam Tribe has an arrangement with the Burke Museum in Seattle which houses the majority of the artifacts unearthed near Ediz Hook. The additional items soon to arrive will be on permanent display beginning December 4th.
Included in the arriving artifacts are an oblong bowl, still showing the red ochre on its rim and undersides. Also included in the expanded exhibit is a tear drop shaped pendant made from the tooth of an elk. A barbed bone harpoon, an antler wedge, a bone hair comb and a triangular slate knife blade.
These are just a few of the thousands of examples of the culture-as-art unearthed during the ill fated Graving Yard excavation.
Ancient Klallam workers used the raw materials they found in their day-to- day lives to fashion tools necessary to carry on their culture and tradition.
So accomplished were the hunters and fishers they had sufficient bounty to afford leisure time. This leisure time was spent not only making tools but also art of great beauty and significance.
Also in the current exhibit are hair combs carved from bone, fish hooks made from the skeletal remains of otter and weaving spools, made from the vertebra of whales.
Were these combs carved by an elder who had retired from the hunt? Was it a youngster, not yet allowed to climb into the dugout canoes to chase the whales passing in the Strait of Juan de Fuca?
Was it a young lover spending many hours making a comb for his heart’s desire? Or was it a teenage girl with time left over from her chores–time to carve her own comb to hold back her hair?
Many of these questions we may never know the answers but we can see the results of their work and marvel at the exquisite artistry and patience it took to make these objects of love, beauty and thrift. Nothing was wasted.