Breaking Ground

The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and the Unearthing of Tse-whit-zen Village

Lynda V. Mapes
Foreword by Frances Charles

  • Published: 2009
  • Subject Listing: Pacific Northwest / History; Native American and Indigenous Studies; Nature and Environment
  • Bibliographic information: 288 pp., 92 color illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Contents

In 2003, a backhoe operator hired by the state of Washington to work on the Port Angeles waterfront discovered what a larger world would soon learn. The place chosen to dig a massive dry dock was atop one of the largest and oldest Indian village sites ever found in the region. Yet the state continued its project, disturbing hundreds of burials and unearthing more than 10,000 artifacts at Tse-whit-zen village, the heart of the long-buried homeland of the Klallam people.

Excitement at the archaeological find of a generation gave way to anguish as tribal members working alongside state construction workers encountered more and more human remains, including many intact burials. Finally, tribal members said the words that stopped the project: "Enough is enough."

Soon after, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe chairwoman Frances Charles asked the state to walk away from more than $70 million in public money already spent on the project and find a new site. The state, in an unprecedented and controversial decision that reverberated around the nation, agreed.

In search of the story behind the story, Seattle Times reporter Lynda V. Mapes spent more than a year interviewing tribal members, archaeologists, historians, city and state officials, and local residents and business leaders. Her account begins with the history of Tse-whit-zen village, and the nineteenth- and twentieth-century impacts of contact, forced assimilation, and industrialization. She then engages all the voices involved in the dry dock controversy to explore how the site was chosen, and how the decisions were made first to proceed and then to abandon the project, as well as the aftermath and implications of those controversial choices.

This beautifully crafted and compassionate account, illustrated with nearly 100 photographs, illuminates the collective amnesia that led to the choice of the Port Angeles construction site. "You have to know your past in order to build your future," Charles says, recounting the words of tribal elders. Breaking Ground takes that teaching to heart, demonstrating that the lessons of Tse-whit-zen are teachings from which we all may benefit.
Lynda V. Mapes is an award-winning journalist with a twenty-year career in newspaper reporting, much of it with the Seattle Times. She is the author of Washington: The Spirit of the Land.

"Compelling, moving, inspirational, and profound. This is a captivating human interest story brought to life by a fascinating historical subplot, juxtaposed with a modern tragedy."
-CHiXapkaid (Michael Pavel), Skokomish, Traditional Bearer of Southern Puget Salish cultures

"A wonderful project . . . both because of the author's passion and accessible style and her attention to critical issues of ethics and relationship-building. A significant contribution to the region and to scholarship more broadly."
-Coll Thrush, author of Native Seattle

Foreword: Lessons from Tse-whit-zen / Frances Charles
Introduction: America Is Indian Country

I Tse-whit-zen
1 Buried Past Comes Alive
2 Abundance
3 Calamity

II Amnesia
4 Conquering the Last Frontier
5 The Big Mill
6 Collective Amnesia
7 This Ground Speaks

III Enough Is Enough
8 Walking Together
9 Walking Away
10 We Were Here-We Are Still Here

Epilogue: Out of the Water, Singing

Note on Sources

"A rich, compelling regional and environmental history combined with underlying public policy concerns made this narrative especially intriguing."
-Oral History Review

"Her book thus provides a substantial and detailed record of the Tse-whit-zen dig and the community conflict and controversy involving the State of Washington's Department of Transportation, the City of Port Angeles, and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe. It is filled with details that are made more real by the fact that Mapes was a witness to many of the events she discusses and spoke firsthand with a number of key players. For these reasons Breaking Ground is an important record of the perils that confront individuals and communities in their efforts to collaborate across significant cultural divides."
-Collaborative Anthropologies

"Breaking Ground is, by design, geared for the general reader, but its content is so valuable that it should be considered required reading for all, no matter the focus of one's work."
-The Midden

"Breaking Ground does a masterful job of telling this complex story, which is both an important part of Washington history and an object lesson in the perils of ignoring that history."
-History Link

"A veteran journalist who writes well, Mapes relies on personal interviews for much of the story of the dry-dock controversy. Her obvious sympathy for the Klallam people gained her the trust of the tribal leadership and access to sources not available to the general public. . . . Breaking Ground makes a significant contribution to the continuing evolution of government's often trouble relationship with American Indians and their tribal governments."
-Columbia: The Magazine of Northwest History

"After talking with so many players in this story-from the workers in the trenches to the leaders on both sides, Mapes shares a moving tale of a departure from 'the way things have always been done' to an approach that ultimately was more respectful, collaborative, and constructive. In our increasingly diverse society, it's a good model to have."
-Kitsap Sun

"A fascinating, beautifully illustrated historical account that reaches as far back as 1790, when the Manuel Quimper expedition landed, and brings the reader forward to present-day native and non-native relations."
-The Port Townsend Leader

"Breaking Ground is about the clash of two civilizations, one of which has built right on top of the other. Lynda Mapes has written a sensitive and highly informative work that serves as an elegy for the hundreds of Klallam ancestors who remained unburied until last fall."
-Katie Schneider, Portland Oregonian