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What is the Quileute Tribe?

By Vicki Hogue-Davies
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Quileute (pronounced "quill-ee-yoot") tribe is a Native American nation located in the western part of the state of Washington in the United States. The Quileute tribe inhabits the community of La Push, located on the state's Olympic Peninsula. They received the area's one-square-mile acreage as part of a treaty settlement with the U.S. government in 1889. The town, its harbor and its Oceanside Resort are all managed by the Quileute. Always a small tribe, the Quileute tribe consisted of fewer than 1,000 people as of 2010.

The tribe has inhabited the area for thousands of years, purportedly all the way back to the Ice Age. The historical range of the Quileute tribe stretched from the Pacific's shores to the Olympic Mountain range. Ocean-going people, the Quileute survived by hunting whales, seals and other sea mammals. They fished for salmon in the ocean and caught fish in rivers and streams. The Quileute took to the sea in finely crafted cedar canoes that ranged in size from two-person vessels to 58-foot-long (18-meter-long) cargo vessels.

Known for their craftsmanship, Quileute men built large, rectangular cedar plank homes. Each home in a village housed several related families and was led by a chief. Like other Northwestern tribes with access to abundant trees, the Quileute carved totems depicting ancestors and spirits for their homes and as grave markers.

They raised dogs with long, woolly hair and used the fur to spin blankets. They wove hats and capes from soft cedar bark to protect themselves from the area's abundant rainfall and were noted for the watertight baskets they wove. Modern generations of Quileutes still learn wood carving and weaving from tribal elders.

Tribal elders also seek to maintain the Quileute language, which is one of only a handful of known languages in the world with no nasal consonants. Other native tongues in Washington, including Lushootseed and Makah, share this distinction. Basics of the Quileute tongue are taught at the reservation's tribal school, and elders have helped put together a dictionary and other information about the language. The complex language, with its extremely long words, also is distinctive because it is not known to be related to any other language.

In the early 21st century, the Quileute tribe gained a measure of recognition in popular culture because of the Twilight series of vampire novels. The novels are set in Forks, a town near La Push, and they feature fictional Quileutes as shape-shifters who can transform into wolves. The ancient creation belief of the Quileutes is that they were transformed from wolves into people.

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