Quileute Nation

“Thousands of winters before the arrival of the White Drifting-House people (ho-kwats), the Quileute Indians and the ghosts of their ancestors lived and hunted here…Today, Quileutes need only lift their eyes to see the burial place of chiefs atop James Island, or A-Ka-Lat — translated as “Top of the Rock”. This sense of cultural continuity is their birthright and heritage…” – Quileute People –

David Hudson, Chief, Quileute Tribe. Photo Seattle Times.

David Hudson, Chief, Quileute Tribe. Photo Seattle Times.

Flag of Quileute tribe.

Flag of Quileute tribe.


According to the history from their website, long before encountering the Europeans, the Quileutes flourished in the territory which originally stretched from their isle-strewn Pacific beaches along the rain forest rivers to the glaciers of Mt. Olympus.  The elders remember “back in the days” when the “old people”  dared challenge kwalla, the mighty whale, and who recounted the exploits of wily raven or bayak, who placed the sun in the sky.

The Quileutes built relations with various tribes such as  the Makah — Nuh-Chul-Nuth who migrated down from the west coast of Vancouver Island;  S’Klallam to the northeast along the Strait of Juan de Fuca; and Quinault, south at Taholah, both descended from the Salishan. Relations with these groups allowed trade, intermarriage of nobility.  Occasionally, however, controversy over trespassing caused outbursts of warfare or slave raiding.

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. Naturally, 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 governor  Isaac I. Stevens and the Quileute signed the Treaty of Quinault River. A year later, a Quileute delegation traveled to Olympia to sign a treaty  (Treaty of Olympia) with the United States. According to that treaty, the Quileutes were to give up their lands and move to a reservation at Taholah. However, so remote was Quileute territory that there was little pressure to settle their lands.

Finally on February 22, 1889, the same year Washington joined the Union as a state (November 11, 1889), an Executive Order by President Benjamin Harrison set up a one-square mile reservation at LaPush with 252 inhabitants.

Four years later, the 71 members of the Hoh River band of Quileutes were provided with a separate reservation. In the treaties the Quileutes reserved their hunting, fishing and gathering rights in their “usual and accustomed places” and were promised health, education and job training in exchange for over 800,000 acres of ancient virgin timber teeming with fish and wildlife in both the Quillayute River basin and in offshore waters.

Just a note, La Push received its name from traders using Chinook jargon for river mouth (a corruption of the French “la bouche”).

In 1882, European culture was brought to the village in the form of schoolteacher A.W. Smith and his school. He set about renaming Quileutes from the Bible (Esau, Sarah, Christian), and American history (William Penn, Henry Hudson, Andrew Jackson, etc.) as well as anglicizing Quileute names (Buckety Mason, California Hobucket). In 1889, all 26 houses at LaPush were burned to the ground by a settler who had wrongly claimed the land. The fire devastated the last carved masks, baskets, hunting equipment and sacred regalia from pre-contact days, except for what may have been relocated to museums or private collections.

The Significance of James Island or Akalat (Top of the Rock)

James Island or Akalat (Top of the Rock) figures prominently in the history of the Quileute people — from documented oral accounts, ethnography, ethnohistory and archeology.  A natural fortress, the island was the location of a fortified village in 1788 when first described in Meares’ written accounts, and this defensive function was maintained into the second half of 1800s.

James Island is also known as a source of spirit power for the Quileute people and a place where high-status individuals were placed in canoes in the trees after death.

James Island and the village of LaPush also were important sites in World War II as part of the 13th Naval District’s Coastal Lookout System.  Both the LaPush Lifeboat Station and the LaPush Beach Patrol Station were located within the village adjacent to James Island. Because James Island obstructs a full view of the horizon from the village, a lookout tower next to the Lifeboat Station house was complemented by a second lookout structure on the island.

Today the US Coast Guard operates a foghorn warning system and a lighting system that provides guidance for boats entering the harbor during night-time inclement weather. A well-maintained steel stairway exists for maintenance and the more adventurous hikers.

For many Washington residents, Indian and non-Indian alike, James Island stands as a preeminent reminder of the extraordinary breathtaking beauty of our Pacific beaches.

Quileute Culture:

Like many Northwest Coast natives, in pre-Colonial times,  the Quileute were oriented to the ocean, where they fished and hunted sea mammals, and were reputedly recognized as the best sealers on the coast. Their red cedar canoes were engineering masterworks ranging in size from two-person sport models to 58-foot ocean going freight canoes capable of hauling three tons. They were also great whalers.

Although no early totems survive, elegantly carved house posts decorated their immense cedar “big houses”

( a 600-foot potlatch house has been documented on the Olympic Peninsula)

The Quileutes used the resources from the land or traded from neighboring tribes to make tools and other items. Interestingly, surface copper made its way south from British Columbia over these trade routes and iron was not unknown, possibly carried by the Japanese Current from Asia to Quileute beaches in derelict junks or other ships.

Necessities like utensils, clothing, weapons, and even paints were made from the natural resources available to them. almost everything was made out of wood.  This even included waterproof skirts and hats that they would make, using cedar, to shield against the heavy rainfall in the region.

In addition to this The Quileute Tribe is known for their woven baskets and dog hair blankets. Their baskets were so tightly woven and fine, that they served as kettles for boiling water or stew. The tribe would raise specially bred, woolly dogs for their hair, which they would spin and weave into blankets.

Quileute Children, 1907, Sarah Endicott Ober, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections.

Quileute Children, 1907, Sarah Endicott Ober, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections.

Quileute Society

Quileute society generated from “house groups”made up of all those who occupied during winter months one of the big houses at the mouths of the Quillayute or Hoh rivers, or Goodman Creek. Each house had a chief, those in line of chiefdom (nobility) and commoners. Thus kinship and blood relationships determined much of the early structure of tribal government. The house group may also have included a number of slaves, either captured or traded from neighboring tribes.

During the summer months, these large units would fragment into families, some of whom moved upriver to hunting camps.

Quileute life also included time for relaxation and play. Winter evenings were spent in dramatic recounting of mythic ancestor stories of the days when the animals were still people. Gambling tournaments like stick games (slahal) and contests of strength (lifting greased beach boulders) and skill were common.

Quileute Language

The Quileute language is unique in that it  doesn’t contain the usual nasal sounds ((no m or n) like the other indigenous languages. It is a complex tongue typified by clicked sounds, epiglottal stops and tongue twisting strings of consonants with words that would run off the page.

There are four other languages that also have this distinction.  It is still spoken by elders at LaPush, and the basics are also taught at the Quileute Tribal School.  Quileute elders have supervised the compilation of a dictionary and instructional texts that are taught in the school.

Tribalpedia’s Questions for Comprehension and Discussion

1. According to their history long before encountering the Europeans, what was the range of the   Quileutes   territory?

2. Who was kwalla and bayak?

3. Who were the first Europeans to contact the Quileute?

4. How did the Tribe treat the Spaniards?

5. What occuerred when the Quileute encountered the British (in 1787), and the Russians (in 1808)?

6. Who was Isaac I. Stevens? What country did he represent?

7. What was the Treaty of Olympia?

8. What is the Significance of James Island or Akalat to the Quileute ?

9. What was the main source of food for the Quileute during pre-colonial times?

10. Describe Quileute society.

11. What is unique about the Quileute language?

Quileute Today


The Quileute Tribal Council is the governing body of the Quileute Tribe, per Article III of its Constitution. It consists of five elected members, each of whom serves staggered three-year terms…The Quileute Tribe is a federally recognized Indian Tribe of 700 enrolled members (as of 3/1/2005). Headquarters are in La Push, Washington.

The Executive director is responsible for coordinating with the Tribal Programs, providing guidance and direction to the Business Enterprises, and direct supervision over the Administrative Staff.


The Quileute Tribal School maintains traditions.

The Quileute Tribal School maintains traditions.

Tribal School

The Quileute Tribe receives econonmic  from the marina, resort. The Tribal School starts at Early Childhood through high school, to  a vocational and  higher education department. Students have earned their GED, AA Degree, and Bachelor’s Degree in this program.

Religion Today

Much of their original religion was lost and forgotten after the Europeans came. Originally the were a very spiritual people, and would perform the first salmon ceremony to ensure a good season.

They believed that each person had their own guardian and they would pray to it, along with the sun and Tsikáti (the universe).

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, known as the Alpha, by transforming [into] 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.

Twilight series

Recently the Quileute Nation on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula has found itself in the spotlight with the runaway success of Stephenie Meyer’s “Twlight” series and the subsequent release of movies based on the series. “New Moon,” the second film, came out earlier this month. “New Moon’s” Wolfpack features members of the Quileute Nation, and Native actors play their roles.


Quileute Legend : How the Quileute people came from wolves.

Even the tribal name “Quileute” comes from their word for wolf, Kwoli.

This version of the legend comes from Manuel Andrade’s 1930 collection Quileute Texts, which is out of print. The storyteller was a bilingual Quileute man named Hallie George.

It happened long ago that Q’waeti’ journeyed all over the land setting the people aright and instructing the people that would come in the future how they should act. Q’waeti’ instructed the people how to build houses.

One day Q’waeti’ came upon Beaver. Beaver was sharpening his stone knife, and Beaver was very stingy. Q’waeti’ asked what was Beaver doing. Whereupon Beaver said: “I am sharpening my knife in order to kill Q’waeti’,” said Beaver. Then Q’waeti’ took what Beaver was sharpening and stuck it on Beaver’s tail. Then he said: “You shall always have this stuck to your tail, and live in the water. You will just slap the water with your tail and dive when the people come.”

Then one day he came upon Deer. Deer was sharpening his shell knife. Thereupon Q’waeti’ asked Deer what was he sharpening it for. Whereupon Deer said: “I am going to kill Q’waeti’,” said Deer. Then Q’waeti’ seized the shell that Deer was sharpening. Then he stuck it on Deer’s ears. He said “When you see people you shall run frightened and stop, and look back.” Then Q’waeti’ went on his way.

Not long afterward he reached Q’wayi’t’soxk’a River. But he did not find any people. Then Q’waeti’ spit on his hands and rubbed them. Doing this he rubbed off the human dead skin into the water. Thereupon many people appeared. Then Q’waeti’ said to the people whom he had made: “You shall dwell here,” said Q’waeti’. “Your name shall be Q’wayi’t’sox (Queets.)”

Then Q’waeti’ reached the Hoh people. He saw that these people walked on their hands carrying their smelt nets between their legs. At that time all the Hoh people walked on their hands. They were called the Up-side-down people. Since that time the Up-side-down people were known as the first people who had existed. Then Q’waeti’ turned right side up the ones who walked on their hands. “You shall use your feet to walk,” said Q’waeti’ to the former Up-side-down people. “Go and fish smelt. You shall catch much fish when you fish smelt.” Ever since then there is much smelt at Hoh.

Then Q’waeti’ went on and reached the Quileute land. He saw two wolves. There were no people here. Then Q’waeti’ transformed the wolves into people. Then he instructed the people saying: “The common man will have only one wife. Only a chief may have four or eight wives. For this reason you Quileute shall be brave, because you come from wolves,” said Q’waeti’. “In every manner you shall be strong…

Then Q’waeti’ went on setting aright and creating people, going around the land, and instructing them in what they should do in order to subsist.



Salito photo: Quileute Nation  Site

History information Quileute Nation Site

Terminology and Words/ History information  Wikipedia

La Push, Washington.

Quinault Treaty in 1855.


Washington state


Quileute: An Introduction to the Indians of La Push by Jay Powell and V. Jensen

Excerpt:   The object of this article is to give a brief description of the main features of the  Quileute ceremonial societies and rituals and to call attention to those elements which have not been found in the societies of the other tribes and which must be looked upon as distinctively Quileute in origin.

The Quileute Ceremonial Societies  Open Library

The Quileute Indians observed the following rituals, based upon the principle of ceremonial societies:

1. The Tlokwali or Wolf Ritual (Ld’kwali). This society, as