The Quileute people have been on the Olympic Peninsula since time immemorial and have lived abundantly in their homelands for thousands of years.
The Quileute became a federally recognized tribe in 1889, when a treaty was signed, meaning that they retained their rights as a sovereign Nation within the United States. Their reservation, the small parcel of land they retained, is the village of La Push, which was their winter homesite. There are also Quileute speakers who live at the mouth of the Hoh River at the Lower Hoh River Reservation. They have been and remain people who rely primarily on resources from the sea—mainly salmon, steelhead, and smelt—and were also whale and seal hunters.
Salmon is still a staple of the Quileute and all of the people of the Northwest. Quileute tribal members participate in commercial fishing and the Tribe operates a natural resource management department that works with several state agencies and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission to keep the local salmon runs healthy and sustainable.
Like most Native Americans, the Quileute lost a great deal of cultural knowledge with the coming of the Anglo-American population and the assimilative policies that they brought with them. Boarding schools, forced religious conversion, and the reservation system aimed to "kill the Indian, and save the man," (Pratt Speech) and made traditional practices and language difficult and even dangerous to practice. Children were beaten for speaking their Native languages in missionary schools.
Despite these and other influences, Quileute culture is alive and well and many cultural practices—including language—are currently being revitalized. Their various art forms reflect their relationships to each other and to the natural world, as do so many of their songs and stories. Here is a sampling of the traditional and contemporary stories, art, and a glimpse at the contemporary lives of the Quileute people.