A Native American tribe in Washington state got a present when a lumber company returned more than 1,000 acres of their ancestral land.
Port Blakely Companies, a 157-year-old company based in the US and New Zealand, returned two miles of waterfront land and 125 acres of tidelands near the southern Puget Sound to the Squaxin Island Tribe, which has lived along the Salish Sea for centuries, the company said in a Dec. 14 release.
The gesture is part of a larger “landback” campaign that aims to return indigenous lands to their original owners.
The deal between Port Blakely and the Squaxin people also includes an agreement for the tribe to buy approximately 875 acres of upland working forest from the company for an undisclosed price.
The lumber company acquired the property after a treaty was signed in 1854.
The land return restores the tribe’s direct access to the Puget Sound and to some of the richest shellfish beds in the region, the main reason tribal ancestors based themselves in the area for millennia.
The Squaxin Island Tribe is also known as “The People of the Water” because of their strong cultural connections to the Sound.
Mike Warjone, president of Port Blakely, told the Seattle Times that a spoken “land acknowledgment,” which only recognizes tribal presence and stewardship, would not have been enough.
“Just an acknowledgment about the place would ring hollow if the only owner of record was still around, and the people it was stolen from were alive and well, and right up the street,” Warjone said. “The obvious thing to do was simply give it back.”
Kris Peters, chairman of the Squaxin Island Tribe, told the Seattle Times the land will be left undeveloped for ceremonial use.
“I can’t wait to drum, and sing, and dance out on those beaches, just like our people did hundreds, and thousands of years ago,” he said. “To me, it is a very spiritual thing; it fills my heart.”