Cover of Breaking Ground

Breaking Ground

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

Lynda Mapes

After I finished The Last Wilderness, I returned to Alan at Port Book and News, who had recommended it to me for learning about the Peninsula, and asked him what should be next for learning about the area around Port Angeles. Without even a second of hesitation he walked to the shelf, plucked off a copy of Breaking Ground and put it into in my hands. I am so glad he pointed me to this amazing account of a gripping local story that helped to reframe my perspective on this specific part of the world. In 2003, routine work at the site of the largest construction projects in the state of Washington turned up the first archeological evidence of what eventually was discovered to be the largest pre-European contact village site ever excavated. Stopping work on an enormous project was controversial, but it was the story of how the memory of the site had been ignored and erased which was the most profound revelation. This story encapsulates so much about European settlers’ attitudes towards native peoples’ cultures, and the hurt this has caused for generations. There are hopeful notes about changing attitudes, and it is certainly noteworthy that the project with so much money and so many interested parties and agencies was indeed stopped. This is a closely-reported story, and certainly feels definitive. Mapes clearly interviewed a lot of people and the eyewitness accounts yield interesting results, such as an incredibly thorough depiction of a burning ceremony (where a feast table, clothing and other objects were burned for the ancestors). I learned so much from this book.

Book Info

Capell Family Book (2009), 276 pages
ISBN/EAN Product Code
Publisher Description

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 Timesreporter 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 Groundtakes that teaching to heart, demonstrating that the lessons of Tse-whit-zen are teachings from which we all may benefit. Lynda V. Mapesis an award-winning journalist with a twenty-year career in newspaper reporting, much of it with theSeattle Times. She is the author ofWashington: 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 ofNative Seattle (Publisher’s Description)

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