In 1792, an unfamiliar ship nears Tatoosh Island and its deck crew busies itself lowering a longboat
over the side. The small craft explores a new realm on the Olympic Coast, its master and crew
gathering new information about an unexplored corner of North America.
Imagining this scene, we probably place ourselves on the vessel, seeing with our Euro-American
minds-eye the unfolding scene.
Contact for page content: George Galasso
But instead, imagine that we are standing proudly on the rock outcrops
at the very tip of the land, interrupted from our daily work and astonished to see strangers visiting
the shore we know intimately, and which our people have known for generations. Most histories
overlook this perspective, yet for descendents of those observers, the perspective has survived
overwhelming odds and thrives today.
Members of the four Olympic Coast tribes - the Makah, Quileute, Hoh and Quinault, justifiably assert
that the discoveries of European explorers were not original discoveries at all, rather just the
first of many trespasses that forever altered the fabric of a world they well understood at the time.
Human presence on the Olympic Coast predates historical record and attests to the subtle
understandings of the marine environment. When Washington Territory's Governor Isaac Stevens
negotiated treaties that would exchange Indian claims to much of their ancestral land in return
for reservations and support from the U.S. Government, significant rights were reserved by the
Tribes. Those rights include the right to fish, gather shellfish and hunt in usual and accustomed
places. In the Treaty of Neah Bay, Stevens agreed that the Makah would retain their right to hunt
seals and whales. Taken together, the treaties recognized the profound relationships between Native
Americans and the marine environment. As documents, they became the "law of the land."
Nearly 150 years after the treaties were signed, the documents form important bonds between the
government of the United States and the governments of each of the treaty Tribes. They also bind
all parties - U.S. and state governments and the Tribes - as stewards of the marine resources that
we increasingly depend upon in common.
When Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary was created, the U.S. Government pledged that the
sanctuary would honor existing treaty rights to fulfill our part of the historic bargain. The
sanctuary was designated with support from the four tribes of the Olympic Coast. In supporting the
sanctuary, tribal resource managers saw the promise of a partner in preserving marine resources and
the cultural links to the marine environment that Native Americans forged over the millennia.
The tribes play crucial roles in assisting the sanctuary to shape policy, research and education
programs through ongoing consultations, joint projects, and as members of the Sanctuary Advisory
Council. On a day-to-day basis the sanctuary and the tribes act collaboratively, different
perspectives focusing on the long-term health of a common priceless ecological and cultural legacy.