Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe

Fishing & Hunting, Weaving & Carving

​Fishing has always been a major source of food for the Klallam; some of these fishy foods include spring, humpback, silver and two varieties of dog salmon, steelhead, halibut, ling cod, flounder, herring, smelts, and candlefish.

Fishing was a year-round activity for the Klallam people, but different types of fish were caught in particular seasons. Some fish were caught in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but much of the salmon fishing was done in the Elwha River. However, restrictions on tribal fishing rights during the first part of the 1900’s severely limited the Tribe’s access to fish.

The landmark 1974 Boldt decision reaffirmed tribal fishing rights and the Tribe was able to fish freely once again without fear of arrest. However, the hydroelectric dams on the Elwha River still limit tribal fishing because they stop salmon from traveling upriver. To help supplement the fish in the few miles of river below the Elwha Dam, the Tribe built the Elwha Fish Hatchery in 1975.

Most Klallam villages were located on the shores of a sheltered harbor where the people could easily fish and harvest clams; their dried horse clams were well-known and a valuable trading commodity. Behind Klallam villages were richly forested areas that gave them access to deer, elk, and other animals.

Elk and deer provided the Klallam not only with food, but with hides to make garments, moccasins, bags, and drums and with bones and antlers to make into tools. The Klallam people would also, on occasion, hunt whales if they spotted one close to the shore of their village. Unlike the Makah tribe they did not go on extended whale hunting expeditions.

Traditionally weaving would be done to make things used in everyday life, such as, hats, clothes, baskets, and mats. The Klallam word for basket is məhuy’. Klallam knew how to make water proof baskets; they did so by using the roots of a cedar tree and weaving them tightly together, and then adding beeswax or pitch to make them water proof. Weavers could do all sorts of things with cedar once it was ready. Other materials like cattails, bear grass, sweet grass, and plant roots were also used to make different kinds of baskets and mats. These materials were dyed with berries, roots, and other plants to give color to the art.

Today, Klallam people still weave all kinds of things. Cedar and other materials are still used for clothing, baskets, and mats. But, for special occasions, many people make or choose to wear cedar headbands, hats, vests, and bracelets.

The skill of shaping wood, bone and stone into figures and shapes, both real and mythological, was developed and mastered over thousands of years, and is called carving or in Klallam qəʔx̣əyu. Special objects like entrance poles, canoes, house posts, and grave markers were carved very carefully. Entrance poles were tall wooden poles that stood in front of the houses of very important people, only the main long house of a village would have one in front of their house. Entrance poles had animals carved to tell the story of that particular family and had a door (entrance) at the very bottom. House posts hold up the house and have the same figures as the entrance pole.

Totem poles were carved to tell stories and the few Klallam masks that were made were for religious ceremonies. Bone was used for knives, combs, hammers, harpoon points and needles of all sizes. Stone was used mostly for arrowheads, bowls, fish hooks and knives.