Sustainability Environment

Lumber company returns waterfront property to Native American tribe in Washington state at no cost

Edmund Lowe Photography/Getty

Story at a glance

  • A Washington state lumber company has returned more than 1,000 acres of ancestral land near the southern Puget Sound to the Squaxin Island Tribe at no cost.
  • The tribe also agreed to purchase 875 acres of land owned by Port Blakely Companies for an undisclosed amount.
  • The land acquired by the tribe will remain undeveloped, the tribe’s chairman said, and will be used for ceremonial purposes.

A timber company in Washington state has returned more than 1,000 acres of ancestral land to the Indigenous tribe to which it once belonged, free of charge.

Port Blakely Companies, which operates in the U.S. and New Zealand, returned 2 miles of waterfront land and 125 acres of tidelands near the southern Puget Sound to the Squaxin Island Tribe, which has lived along the Salish Sea for “untold centuries.”

The return of the tidelands is part of the “Land Back” movement, in which landowners willingly surrender their property to the Indigenous people it had belonged to before it was colonized by white settlers.

The Squaxin Island Tribe’s direct access to the Puget Sound was restored with the return of the waterfront land. In a separate transaction, the tribe also agreed to purchase about 875 acres of ancestral forestland from Port Blakely for an undisclosed sum, according to a news release.


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Returning the shoreline was the obvious right thing to do, Mike Warjone, president of Port Blakely, U.S. Forestry, told the Seattle Times. He said a spoken “land acknowledgement,” which merely recognizes tribal presence and stewardship, would not have been enough.

“Just an acknowledgment about the place would ring hollow if the only owner of record was still around, and the people it was stolen from were alive and well, and right up the street. The obvious thing to do was simply give it back,” he said, adding that “it’s about time.”

Kris Peters, chairman of the Squaxin Island Tribe, told the Seattle Times the land will be left undeveloped for ceremonial use.

“I can’t wait to drum, and sing, and dance out on those beaches, just like our people did hundreds, and thousands of years ago,” he said. “To me it is a very spiritual thing; it fills my heart.”


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