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Hoh River Native American Tribe

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The Hoh River Indians are considered to be a band of the Quileute tribe, but are recognized as a distinct tribe by the federal government. The Native American name for Hoh, "Chalaat," means "people of the river."

The tribe lives on the northwest corner of Washington on the Olympic Peninsula. The Hoh River Reservation consists of 443 acres, including approximately a mile of beach front running east from the mouth of the Hoh River and south to Ruby Beach. The reservation is located in Jefferson County, south of Forks.

A brief history

The Hoh originally spoke the Quileute language and were at one time a village among several Quileute villages. The Hoh, Quileute and Quinault met with territorial governor and Indian supervisor Isaac Stevens to negotiate the Quinault River Treaty on July 1, 1855, by which the natives would cede lands to the government in turn for reserved tracts of land for their exclusive use. The parties signed the document on Jan. 25, 1856; it was ratified March 8, 1859, then proclaimed on April 11, 1859.

Article I stated:

The said tribes and bands hereby cede, relinquish, and convey to the United States all their right, title, and interest in and to the lands and country occupied by them, bounded and described as follows: Commencing at a point on the Pacific coast, which is the southwest corner of the lands lately ceded by the Makah tribe of Indians to the United States, and running easterly with and along the southern boundary of the said Makah tribe to the middle of the coast range of mountains; thence southerly with said range of mountains to their intersection with the dividing ridge between the chehalis and Quiniatl Rivers; thence westerly with said ridge to the Pacific coast; thence northerly along said coast to the place of beginning.

The treaty also provided $25,000 compensation for lands ceded to the United States, which tribal members think was insufficient.

More than three decades later, the Hoh Indian Reservation amounting to less than a square mile was established at the mouth of the Hoh River by a presidential executive order on September 11, 1893.

The Hoh acreage was logged in 1954. Several decades remain before the new growth will be commercially attractive.

The Hoh were officially recognized as a tribe by the federal government in 1960. Then the Indian Claims Commission awarded them and the Quileute compensation for ceded lands in the amount of $112,152.60 on April 17, 1963.

On May 24, 1969, the Hoh people adopted a constitution. The tribe also formed a government that allowed an enrollment of tribal members. A tribal business committee is the governing unit. The committee is elected by balloting every two years in November.

The Hoh Tribe today

Hoh tribal membership amounts to about 120 persons. The subsistence of the Hoh bascially consists of fishing. The locals dipnet for smelt on the beaches and harvest from tidelands rich with perch, crab, razor and butter clams. They preserve food in smokehouses for later use. Other residents dig out canoes for river or oceangoing use, carve ornamental objects and weave decorative baskets for sale.

The lack of a health facility compels tribal members to seek direct health care from a doctor, dentist and nurse practitioner one day a week at the health station in Queets or from the Roger Saux Health Center in Taholah. The Hoh Tribe also contracts under Title I of Public Law 93-638 for a tribal health administrator and community health representative.

The Hoh reservation is contracting due to the Hoh River's changing nature. Flooding has been a constant problem, especially since 1928. However, recent record flooding aggravated by logging, an increase of the river's speed, and change of direction due to an upriver road stabilization project, have combined to produce an erosive threat. The river now heads due south toward reservation land adjacent to 30 tribal homes and six other buildings.

The flooding infests the village water supply with such parasites as Giardia, and the septic system is overcome, which causes sewage to overflow.

The tribe is working with county officials on a flood response annex to the County Emergency Operations Plan.

Mary Leitke, Hoh Tribal chairperson, said, "We are actively looking for ways to end our exposure to repetitive losses from floods and provide a safe place for our people to build their future."

As the reservation diminishes in size, the tribal population grows. The only long-term solution may be for the Hoh to relocate to a new home.

Meanwhile, on March 25, 2004, the Hoh Tribe celebrated the completion of a new public safety building. Representatives from the Quileute and Makah tribes, Jefferson County, the Governor's Office of Indian Affairs, FEMA Region X, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs attended the ceremony. At the outset, the building will provide office space for tribal law enforcement and fisheries enforcement, as well as administrative functions.

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