Historically, Klallam people lived throughout the Northern Olympic Peninsula and were united by language and kinship. Villages were on both sides of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. There were approximately 33 village sites from the Hoko River in the west to the Puget Sound in the east. Downtown Port Angeles was once a thriving Klallam village known as č̕ixʷícən (Tse-whit-zen).
Settlers began arriving in the 1860s. Port Angeles and other towns were established around that time. The homesteaders forced Klallam from their traditional home sites. Some Klallam purchased land, but because they were not considered U.S. citizens, they were unable to obtain title to their ancestral holdings.
In 1884, when the Indian Homestead Act passed, several Klallam families eventually became land owners. In taking up homesteads, the Klallam were forced to sever tribal relations. Many did not want to do this and had to leave their homes. Landless Klallam families moved to the rocky shores west of the Elwha River, or to Ediz Hook and the Inner Port Angeles Harbor.
This time was hard on the people because they had no permanent homes, and their villages kept getting forcibly relocated by settlers. Forced homelessness and loss of traditional foods created extreme hardships. The main source of food was wild game, fish and shellfish, which the people gathered themselves, but in 1910, state law required a license to fish; tribal members, however, could not obtain a license because they were not U.S. citizens. In 1924, Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act, making all Indians born in the U.S. citizens, but fishing continued to be restricted by the state.
In 1934 the Indian Reorganization Act passed, but it took until 1937 for the Klallam to obtain 327 acres of land in the Elwha Valley. This was only for 14 families, and many families remained landless. The purpose of acquiring the trust land in 1937 was to establish a reservation, but federal recognition didn’t happen until 1968. After becoming federally recognized the reservation was proclaimed, running water was available in 1969 on the reservation, and in the early 1970s, electricity also became available. In 1971 the court case U.S. v. WA was heard in Seattle.
In 1974 Judge Boldt made the ruling that upheld the Tribe’s rights to fish granted in the treaty of 1855. History was made. In 1975 the Fish Hatchery was built, and 1976 the Tribal Center were built. In 1987 a levee was built to protect the homes in the valley, enabling the Tribe to build more homes. Currently, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe owns 1014 acres, and approximately 882 tribal members are enrolled.