views updated May 18 2018


ETHNONYMS: Quinaielt, Queniult


Identification and Location. The Quinault are named after their largest settlement, kwi'nail (present-day Taholah), at the mouth of the Quinault River. Their original territory extended up the river to Lake Quinault and along the Pacific coast from the mouth of the Raft River to Joe Creek, near Pacific Beach. Historically, the Quinault were one of several societies on or near the coast in Washington state's Olympic Peninsula. These societies included, from north to south, the Makah (on Cape Flattery), Ozette, Quilleute, Hoh, Queets (almost identical to the Quinault in language and customs), Quinault, Copalis-Oyhut, Chehalis, Shoalwater Salish, Willapah, and Chinook on the Columbia estuary. All those societies engaged in an interregional system of trade, marriage, feasting, and raiding and spoke a Chinook lingua franca.

Since their relocation to the Quinault Indian Reservation, the name "Quinault" has been associated with all the Indians who live on the 208,150-acre reservation regardless of their original cultural affiliations. The contemporary Quinault have forged a common identity based on shared residency and the collective struggle for control over their natural resources. In 1975 the Quinault reorganized their government and ratified the Constitution of the Quinault Indian Nation (QIN). The nation includes the descendants of the Quinault, Queets, Hoh, Quileute, Chehalis, Chinook, and Cowlitz.

Demography. The Quinault were a small society; their population was never greater than the thousand people Lewis and Clark estimated in 1805, based on their count of sixty lodges. In the 1840s and 1850s a series of epidemics decimated that population. In 1870 there were only 130 Quinault, and in 1888 an Indian agent counted just 95. By 1902 the population had climbed back to 136. The Quinault began to adopt members of other groups as a strategy to secure more land under the General Allotment Act. By 1911 there were 748 allottees. In the 1920s the population was estimated to be not more than 800. The 1990 census counted 1,216 people on the reservation. QIN membership was 2,000 in 1990 and 2,453 in 1999.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Quinault speak a Salish dialect. In the past they spoke the languages of neighboring peoples as well as Chinook and Nootka.

History and Cultural Relations

The first account of the Quinault was recorded in 1775, when the Spaniard Bruno de Hezeta anchored off Point Grenville, a few miles south of the Quinault River. The British Charles W. Barcley followed in 1787, and the American Robert Gray a year later. Although friendly at first, those encounters turned violent. The Quinault massacred landing parties of both Spaniards and British, who retaliated in an equally violent way. According to some historians, the Spaniards violated a sacred burial ground when they planted their cross on the beach. Other historians speculate that the Quinault were wary of "black-bearded" strangers because of reports they had heard of the brutality of Russian fur traders in the Aleutians and Alaska.

Lucrative fur sales to China spurred an increase of trade in the region. Unfortunately, the traders brought infectious diseases. The first incidence of measles occurred in 1779. In the 1850s a series of smallpox and influenza epidemics decimated the coastal population. Too weak to resist the advance of white settlers and eager to preserve control of the Quinault River, the Quinault, along with the Queets, Quileutes, and Hohs, signed the Quinault River Treaty in 1855, which established the Quinault Indian Reservation.

The 1850s saw the arrival of the first white settlers and the beginning of the lumber industry, which would dominate the local economy. The successful marketing of lumber milled from timber that homesteaders cleared from their land quickly changed the way settlers saw the forest. Lumber companies sprung up and soon turned Grays Harbor into the most productive logging area in the world.

The General Allotment Act (Dawes Act) of 1887 had opened the way for private ownership of reservation land, although forestland initially was excluded. Within forty-five years the Quinault lost control of 32 percent of their land. Following a 1924 provision of the Dawes Act, lumber companies obtained the right to log on reservation land. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) brokered land-use deals with lumber companies without consulting tribal officials. It also underestimated yields and charged below-market stumpage rates, favoring the logging companies. In 1936 the Quinault Tribal Council unsuccessfully challenged clear-cutting logging practices, which it argued made the remaining stands vulnerable to wind and fire and made natural reseeding impossible.

In the 1960s a new generation of young college-educated activists successfully confronted the authorities and won favorable legal judgements. In 1969 activists closed down a traditional clamming beach to tourists and had it rezoned as a protected wildlife habitat. In 1971, after a dispute with the BIA over stumpage rates and clear-cutting practices, young leaders barricaded roads and bridges, shutting down logging operations and forcing lumber companies to acquiesce to their demands. In 1974 the Quinault initiated a reforestation project with the BIA.

QIN leaders view natural resources as a single entity. Clear-cutting logging practices choked and poisoned the vital salmon rivers. A long, hard-fought campaign on the fisheries issue finally led to the Washington State Timber/Fish/Wildlife Agreement of 1987. The QIN set up a Resource Development Project (QRDP) that implemented a scientific fish hatchery and management program. Starting in 1978 with a federal loan, the QIN began to buy back land and resolve long-standing boundary disputes. By 1989 tribal ownership of reservation land increased from 2.2 percent to 17 percent. This vigorous defense of their rights against state government, federal agencies, and private corporations forged a new identity among the Quinault.


Villages are found up and down the Quinault River. Thirty-eight sites were documented in the 1920s, although only twenty might have been occupied at any one time. Villages were located by favorable fishing spots and averaged from one to ten multifamily houses. Houses were built side by side facing the river. A post and beam construction with red cedar plank siding and gabled roofs was used. Houses varied in size from 30 to 60 feet (9 to 18 meters) in length and 20 to 40 feet (6 to 12 meters) in width.


Subsistence. The main staple is salmon, which can be caught year-round in the creeks, rivers, and ocean. The black (chinook) salmon run in June and August, and the silver (coho) and dog (chum) salmon from September to mid-November. The blueback salmon are a species unique to the Quinault River and are the most plentiful. They run from late March to early July, with the peak in April. In the past villagers built common weirs and camps along the river a month before the run. Salmon was boiled or roasted for immediate consumption or dried and salted for the winter. After the blueback salmon run people hunted elk, bear, and deer in the mountains or gathered clams on the beach. They also gathered bark, grass, and berries and edible roots. At the end of the summer they returned to the river to catch the black, silver, and dog salmon. May to August was also whale season for a few intrepid hunters under the guidance of leaders who were thought to have special whale-hunting powers. Fishing and hunting are still important subsistence and economic activities.

Commercial Activities. The Quinault have been fishing commercially for a hundred years. Catches today are higher than at any time in the past, largely as a result of a comprehensive fish hatchery and stocking program. The QIN operates its own cannery and sells fish and other products under the brand name Quinault Pride Seafood Products. In 1978 nearly a third of the reservation's income came from fishing. Other income comes from work in the logging industry and the reservation services, which include roads, sanitation, education, recreation, health, police, and fire protection.

Industrial Arts. The Quinault fabricated a rich material culture from forest products. They used cedar bark, pine roots, hemp rushes, and grass to make clothes, nets, and baskets. They built houses, canoes, and storage trunks from wood. They made carvings of great beauty and decorated their work with designs using red and yellow dyes made from the Oregon grape, hemlock bark, salmon eggs, and the ash of red cedar. They used the fur of marmots and otters to make shoulder robes and bed blankets.

Trade. In the past people traded sea otter skins, dried salmon, and dried elk meat for whale oil, dentalium shells, and dried razor clams. They traded skins to white traders for iron tools, cloth, guns, and rum.

Division of Labor. Men built the weirs and fished for salmon; women dried and smoked the fish. Men and women both clammed. Women wove baskets, picked berries, and dug camas bulbs, the main vegetable staple. Camas bulbs were pounded, dried, and made into cakes for the winter. Men hunted elk, bear, and deer and trapped marmot, beaver, and otters.

Land Tenure. Land on the reservation is a mixture of trust, fee, tribal, and mixed ownership landholdings, reflecting a history of government land acts, private sales, logging claims, and land reclamation. The traditional concept of ownership was one of stewardship; however, the General Allotment Act of 1887 imposed a system of individual property rights. The act granted each adult male 80 acres of land for agricultural purposes and 160 acres for grazing. A 1924 revision of the act allowed for other kinds of land use, including logging. Within a few years logging companies controlled a third of the reservation land. In recent years the Quinault have struggled to reclaim control of their land as a way to protect their vital salmon fishery.


Kin Groups and Descent. There was no strong corporate organization such as a clan; instead, there were nested identities that included the family, household, village, and tribe. All Quinault considered themselves kin no matter how distant the genealogical connection was.

Kinship Terminology. People address each other by kinship terms rather than personal names. Some terms vary according to whether the speaker is male or female. There were no separate terms for parallel cousins and cross-cousins.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. One could not marry a blood relative. As all Quinault are considered related, this meant that they had to marry outside the group. One researcher counted fifty-eight out of eighty marriages that were exogamous, with partners from sixteen different cultural groups. A man would consider marriage only after acquiring a supernatural power from a spirit in a vision quest. Women could marry after the five-month period of seclusion that followed their first menses. Parents arranged the marriage. Once an agreement was made, the groom's parents and kin would visit the bride's village, bringing gifts and staying for a feast. The marriage ceremony would take place the next day at the groom's village. Residence was patrilocal. Wealthy men practiced polygamy.

Domestic Unit. A household consisted of a man and his sons, brothers, uncles and nephews, or cousins and their respective wives, children, parents-in-law, slaves, and hangerson. The head of the family with the most seniority, prestige, or wealth was considered the "owner" of the house and occupied the rear of the house. Each family had its own hearth and cooked for itself.

Inheritance. Most of a deceased person's personal items were destroyed. Large items such as canoes were distributed among the family, with the oldest son receiving the major share. The "ownership" of a house passed to the oldest son, or to a brother, cousin, or nephew.

Socialization. According to local beliefs, children under age five have no common sense and therefore can not be held accountable for their actions. Between the ages of five and twenty, fathers and grandfathers would tell evening stories to their children to inculcate in them "the mind of their fathers."

As part of an assimilation policy in the Pacific Northwest, President Ulysses S. Grant assigned the Methodist Episcopal Church the area that included the Quinault Indian Reservation. The church established the Taholah Elementary School, which enforced strict behavioral codes and forbade the speaking of the Quinault language. The Quinault took control of the school in 1920 and began to stress the study of their own culture and history in order to recognize, preserve, and promote their culture and community.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Traditionally, the village was the fundamental social unit outside the family and household. The primary task of village members was to build and maintain the fishing weir, which was a collective effort.

There were three social classesnoble, commoner, and slavethat were distinguished according to a metaphor of blood. Nobles had "good blood," commoners had "poor blood" and there was "slave blood." One could have "half-slave blood" or "partly slave blood." Slaves were war captives and belonged to the leader of the war party. Only the wealthy owned slaves. Slaves could marry, but their offspring inherited their status. A slave could buy his or her freedom. Slaves were freed between 1850 and 1900, but several slaves were observed in the 1920s.

Political Organization. Traditionally, the man in the village with the largest house and the most wives, slaves, and property such as canoes, furs, blankets, and strings of dentalium had the greatest authority and was considered the chief. The word Ali's meant "chief," "noble," and "rich man." The chiefs of the largest villages had the most power, but no chief had absolute authority. A chief had a spokesman who "spoke the chiefs mind" and represented the chief in negotiations with other villages and tribes. Chiefs affirmed their status and privileges by holding potlatches, which would include members of other tribes. Chiefs were also the heads of secret societies.

In 1922 the Quinault enacted by-laws to establish a Tribal Council, and in 1975 they adopted a constitution. A General Council meets annually to hold elections, accept new members, allocate fishing grounds, and discuss other matters. Throughout the rest of the year business and legislative affairs are entrusted to four executive officers and seven councilmen who sit on the Quinault Business Committee. The reservation administration consists of departments of finance, human resources, natural resources, community development, social and health services, facilities management, information services, public safety, judiciary, and education. In 1990 the BIA implemented the Self-Governance Act, which established QIN as a sovereign entity with the right to govern itself and deal with other tribes and nations on a government-to-government basis.

Social Control. Chiefs would mediate in some disputes, although they had limited authority. People avenged the murder of a kinsman by killing the murderer (not his or her kin) or demanding a blood price from his or her kin. Today the QIN has a court system and police department.

Conflict. Traditionally, every grown man was a potential warrior. Individual families from different tribes feuded at times, but there was never all-out war between societies. Warriors fought with bows and arrows, spears, and rocks. Captives were killed, usually burned alive in their homes, or enslaved. All the coastal people took heads as trophies.

The Quinault had hostile encounters with European explorers and traders from the very beginning of contact. Decimated by disease in the second half of the eighteenth century, they were powerless to stop the influx of white settlers and sought refuge on a reservation, where they believed they would have some protection. However, various land acts opened the reservation to private ownership by outsiders. Since the 1960s the Quinault have waged a successful political and judicial campaign to regain control of their land and resources.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Traditional religion involved the acquisition and control of power (tamanois) to enhance one's fortunes with respect to health, food, fame, or love. The ways to acquire power were to obtain a guardian spirit through a vision quest or to resort to the ritual and dancing practiced in the secret societies. The vision quest occurred for men shortly after puberty. More than one guardian spirit could be obtained. The shaman Bob Pope controlled over thirty different spirits. Some spirits were contained in sacred objects such as sticks, carved dolls, rattles, walking staffs, and "power-boards."

In the 1890s many Quinault converted to the Shaker cult, a syncretic revitalization and reformist movement brought to the Puget Sound area by John Slokum. Shaker ceremonies involved all-night dancing and self-induced tremors, a sign of the spirit entering the body. Followers abstained from smoking, drinking, and gambling.

The Methodist Episcopal Church was one of the first European institutions on the reservation. Today most reservation residents are Christian.

Religious Practitioners. Shamans were considered ordinary persons, although with exceptional gifts. They were called on in times of crisis, for example, if the salmon were not running, the weather turned bad, or someone fell sick. Shamans engaged in contests with other shamans and have been accused of killing people through sorcery.

Ceremonies. In the past a naming ceremony was held a year after birth. A feast was held after the five-month period of seclusion that followed a girl's first menses. Chiefs held potlatches, which were usually three-day affairs involving feasting, dancing, and the giving away of gifts.

Arts. The Quinault have a rich folklore that they share with other tribes. Dancing, face painting, and mask making were part of the secret society regalia and performance. A rich system of visual expression is found in the intricate patterns and designs of baskets and woodwork.

Medicine. In the past shamans cured the sick by removing intrusive objects or, with aid of guardian spirits, recovering the lost soul. Herbal remedies included ferns and moss for heart ailments, tea of crab apple leaves for spitting blood, licorice fern for coughs, and deer fern for colic.

In the 1960s a comprehensive ambulatory medical and dental care system was established in Taholah. The Roger Saux Health Center employs professional physicians, nurses, dentists, and pharmacists and provides courses in health care, including dentistry, pharmacy, sanitation, maternal and child health care, community health, emergency medical service, and nutrition. The reservation also operates an outpatient alcohol and substance abuse program. The leading causes of death are heart disease, cancer, strokes, accidents, and homicide.

Death and Afterlife. In the past the dead were buried in a canoe or box raised on stilts. The corpse was removed from a hole in the wall or roof of the house. A shaman then exorcised the ghost and sickness from the house. Personal property such as blankets, utensils, and bows and arrows were broken and placed alongside the grave. Adult relatives cut their hair in mourning and avoided using the deceased person's name for a year. If the owner of a house died, the house was torn down and rebuilt. A short while after the funeral kinsmen held a minor potlatch. Reburial was an option for wealthy families. The dead existed in the afterworld much like the living: hunting, fishing, having children, and fighting.

For the original article on the Quinault, see Volume 1, North America.


Barsh, Russell Lawrence (1982). "The Economics of a Traditional Coastal Indian Salmon Fishery," Human Organization 41: 170-76.

Farrand, Livingston (1902). Traditions of the Quinault Indians. New York: American Museum of Natural History.

Olson, Richard L.(1936). The Quinault Indians. Seattle: University of Washington.

Storm, Jacqueline M. (1990). Land of the Quinault. Taholah, WA: Quinault Indian Nation.

Willoughby, Charles Clark (1886). Indians of the Quinaielt Agency, Washington Territory. Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution. Washington, DC.

Workman, Larry J. (1997). Land of Trees: Scannings from the Quinault Country, the Grays Harbor Region, and Beyond 1774-1997. Taholah, WA: Quinault Indian Nation.



views updated Jun 27 2018


The Quinault (Quinaelt, Quinaielt), including the Queets (Quaitso), live on the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula in northwestern Washington to the south of the Quileute and Hoh. They spoke Coast Salish languages and numbered about sixteen hundred in 1984. They now live with the Chehalis, Chinook, and Cowlitz on the Quinault Indian Reservation in Washington.


Barsh, Russell Lawrence (1982). "The Economics of a Traditional Coastal Indian Fishery." Human Organization 41:170176.

Olson, Ronald L. (1936). "The Quinault Indians." University of Washington Publications in Anthropology 6:1-190.