Topping the hill on the road leading into the coastal town of La Push — home of the Quileute people — you will be struck by the breathtaking vista stretching out before your eyes: cobalt blue water, white surf and emerald green forest. Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and Olympic National Park, and bordered by the Quileute River, La Push is home to around 500 residents whose ancestors have inhabited this land for generations.
Living at the estuary of salt and fresh water, the Quileute people have traditionally harvested the abundant supply of salmon and other seafood as a staple of their diet and as a source of income from commercial fishing. As the fish population has dwindled, along with the price paid for the catch and the number of days people are permitted to fish, fewer La Push residents are able to make a living from fishing. The decline of fishing as a viable livelihood at La Push has increased the need for tribal members to seek educational and professional training away from the reservation.
This situation became the focus of discussion and action for a group of community members who participated in Horizons, a community leadership development program sponsored by the Northwest Area Foundation. Community governance and decision making are the domain of the Quileute Tribal Council, which gathers the tribe once a year to listen to people’s ideas and questions. The Council establishes and upholds tribal policies and introduces new initiatives. Working in tandem with the Council, Quileute Horizons participants have worked together to hone leadership skills and strategies for addressing community need, while developing the tools for working together more effectively side by side throughout the year and exploring ways to tap the community’s greatest asset — its people.
As the Horizons group took a fresh look at community resources, they recognized Quileute youth as one of the tribe’s most valuable assets. They then set out to identify the needs and concerns of young people, and to give them the tools they need to fully develop their potential. To begin, adults paired up with youth to attend a three-day empowerment workshop. The workshop gave voice to young people in unprecedented ways, as participants delved into family and community issues and explored possibilities for building self-esteem, speaking out respectfully, avoiding alcohol, making healthy decisions and nurturing cultural awareness. The training laid the foundation for better communication and understanding among tribal members and has been the springboard for a variety of new programs.
The Quileute Tribe’s youth summer employment program places around 25 students in diverse jobs in La Push and nearby Forks each year. Summer interns work in a range of settings including the hospital, candy store, swimming pool, grocery store and hatchery, to name a few. Summer internships are designed to foster a sense of responsibility and commitment among youth and help them develop an awareness of their own capabilities and potential. Some summer placements have led to long-term employment.
To support outreach to young people, the Solduc Hatchery manager has begun visiting the Quileute Tribal School to teach young people about her work and various programs and invite them to visit the hatchery at any time. Making the family connection that is vital for Quileute tribal members, she tells students, “This fish might come back for your dad or auntie or uncle.”
The ripple effect of youth programs has led to a record number of Quileute youth finishing high school and pursuing higher education. Future plans include resume and career classes for youth, a career fair and a college tour program.
Education was a theme that ran through all Horizons activities at La Push. The program brought a series of workshops to the area, including well-attended organizational skills and small-business development trainings. Participants continue to apply the knowledge gained from these educational experiences to their work, and hope that future workshops will continue to bring new opportunities to the community.
Reflecting on their community, Horizons participants also identified Quileute culture as one of their most precious assets. Based on local resources, traditional culture revolves around harvesting and processing seafood, game and berries, crafting baskets and canoes from natural materials, and participating in ceremonial events that are the fabric of the community’s social life. Through Natives Embracing Knowledge, community members taught a series of weekly classes in various traditional practices such as cooking fish on a stick; canning locally grown and harvested berries and apples; butchering, cooking and canning seafood and game; baking bread and desserts; basketry; beading; and shawl-making.
Based on the cultural value of generosity, many ceremonial occasions include giving gifts and sharing one’s wealth, in the Northwest Native tradition of potlatch. Natives Embracing Knowledge also offered classes in making handmade items that can be used in giveaways, providing students with an alternative to store-bought gifts.
One community members reflects, “It was great because we looked into our community and found out who had talents in different areas. We cook fish on a stick — something we’ve done here forever. There’s a technique in how to cut your fish, how to put it on the stick, how to watch it when it’s cooking around the fire. Everyone has had it, but not that many really know how to do it. Out of 20 in the class, only one had actually done it.”
The program was beneficial from every angle, as it brought community members together around a common cause, supported vital traditional knowledge that was in jeopardy of being lost, empowered tribal members as knowledgeable teachers, and gave students the confidence and skills to participate in traditional activities that improve the quality of their lives. One tribal member embraces the idea of social capital: “You can go out and look for training, or you can find people in the community who have the skills and build on the wealth within your own community. Each community is full of wealth and making people aware of that is very important.”
To further bolster cultural education, Horizons participants organized a Culture Day, which has taken hold in the community. The Quileute Tribal School hosts the Culture Day, during which people come together, take part in traditional activities and watch archival films of elders from the tribe’s collection. The Culture Day brings families together and reinforces the cultural knowledge needed to participate fully in weekly intergenerational Healing Circles, school-based open singing, dancing and drumming circles, ceremonial events such as memorials, namegivings and weddings, and the regional intertribal canoe journeys that take place each summer.
Horizons participants developed collaborations with others in the community to draw upon the tribe’s resources and spread interest in their work. By the end of the 18-month program, the Quileute Tribal Council, Housing Authority, Quileute Tribal School, Solduc Hatchery and Oceanside Resort were onboard as partners in various projects. Continued cooperation and unity among tribal departments and businesses make it possible to accomplish more and make the most effective use of resources to address community needs.
A tribal member who works in Social Services appreciates the lasting importance of “having a vision and working towards it,” a gift that all Horizons participants have garnered from their collective work. This trend toward positive thinking reverberates throughout the community. One member says, “People are starting to look at things from an asset-based approach, rather than deficit. Rather than saying, ‘Well these are the problems,’ we try to look at it from, ‘Okay, well how can we fix this?’ I try to use it every day, not just in the community but in everyday life.”
From her childhood in La Push, one tribal member fondly recalls the fishbakes families held each year to celebrate catching the first spring salmon or “springer” of the year. People would bake the springer and invite family members to share it. She and many Quileute adults miss the sense of family and community connection that once marked the rhythm of life in La Push, “the little things that mean so much.” She hopes that the fishbake tradition will be restored so that community members will have access to the support and nurturing these family gatherings provide. Through Horizons, community members have drawn upon new and old ways to harvest the community’s abundance to nurture a positive and healthy environment for all.