ETHNONYMS: Clallam, Tlalem

As described here, "Klallam" refers to an American Indian group that includes the Klallam proper, the Lummi, Nootsack (Nooksack), Samish, Samiamoo (Semiahmoo), Songish (Lkungen), and the Sooke. They live in the general area of the shores of northern Puget Sound, more specifically on the northeastern part of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, on the southeastern tip of Vancouver Island, and on the adjacent coast and islands of northwestern Washington. Today, they reside on a number of reservations in the United States, among them the Lower Elwha Reservation, the Lummi Reservation, and the Port Gamble Reservation, with others living on reserves in British Columbia. Numerous Individuals and families have relocated to cities such as Vancouver, Victoria, Port Angeles, and Seattle. There are about twenty-five hundred Klallam living in the region today.

First contact with Europeans was probably with Juan de Fuca in 1592, although it was another two hundred years Before contacts with the Spanish explorer Manuel Quimper and the British captain George Vancouver led to sustained Contact. Much change to the traditional culture resulted from the establishment of the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island in 1843, as it became a meeting place for Whites and numerous Indian tribes.

The traditional Klallam culture was similar to that of other Northwest Coast groups. Subsistence was based on fishing, mainly for various species of salmon, but also for herring, smelt, cod, flounder, halibut, and trout. Whales and seals were hunted when available, and several types of shellfish were gathered. Women collected berries and nuts, camas bulbs, and fern roots. Wood, especially the red cedar, was a key resource and was the basic material in house and canoe building. Steamed and bent cedar strips and cedar bark were made into boxes, utensils, dishes, clothing, rope, and furnishings.

Like most other Northwest Coast groups, Klallam Society was stratified into classes of nobles, commoners, and slaves. There were numerous villages along the coastline, each ruled by a chief who ruled on the basis of heredity and wealth. Chiefs gave potlatches to enhance their prestige, often organizing them at the time of marriages and girls' puberty rites and to honor the dead. The Klallam waged war with the Makah, Squamish, and other neighboring groups as well as northern groups such as the Haida and Tsimshian who raided them for slaves. They were regularly involved in trade, both with neighboring groups and with groups on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains. Items traded include horses, dried clams, blankets, skins, oils, dried fish, and venison.

Most of the Klallam groups have been converted to Christianity, the Lummi being mainly Roman Catholic and the others Protestant. They are largely assimilated into White society. The Lummi are noted for their aquacultural project, growing amd harvesting food from the nearby waters, and for their fish hatchery program.


Gunther, Erna (1927). Klallam Ethnography. University of Washington Publications in Anthropology 1(5). Seattle.

Nugent, Ann, ed. (1979). The History of Lummi Fishing Rights. Bellingham, Wash.: Lummi Communications.

Nugent, Ann, and Evan Kinley, eds. (1982). Lummi Elders Speak. Lynden, Wash., and Ferndale, Wash.: Lynden Tribune and the Lummi Education Center, Lummi Historical Publications.

Stern, Bernard J. (1969). The Lummi Indians of Western Washington. New York: AMS Press. Originally published, 1934.

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