Last updated
Flag of the Quileute Tribe.PNG
Total population
Enrolled members: 2,000
Regions with significant populations
United States (Washington)
English, formerly Quileute language
Related ethnic groups
Chimakum (extinct)

The Quileute /ˈkwɪlit/ , [1] also known as the Quillayute /kwɪˈl.t/ , are a Native American people in western Washington state in the United States, currently numbering approximately 2,000. They are a federally recognized tribe: the Quileute Tribe of the Quileute Reservation.


The Quileute people were forced onto the Quileute Indian Reservation ( 47°54′23″N124°37′30″W / 47.90639°N 124.62500°W / 47.90639; -124.62500 ) after signing the Quinault Treaty in 1855. Their reservation is located near the southwest corner of Clallam County, Washington, at the mouth of the Quillayute River on the Pacific coast. The reservation's main population center is the community of La Push, Washington. The 2000 census reported an official resident population of 371 people on the reservation, which has a land area of 4.061 km² (1.5678 sq mi, or 1,003.4 acres).

The Quileute language belongs to the Chimakuan family of languages among Northwest Coast indigenous peoples. The Quileute language is an isolate, as the only related aboriginal people to the Quileute, the Chimakum, were destroyed by Chief Seattle and the Suquamish people during the 1860s. The Quileute language is one of only six known languages lacking nasal sounds (i.e., m and n). [2]

Like many Northwest Coast nations, in precontact times the Quileute relied on fishing from local rivers and the Pacific Ocean for food. They built plank houses (longhouses) to protect themselves from the harsh, wet winters west of the Cascade Mountains. The Quileute, along with the Makah, were once also whalers.


The Quileute tribe is governed by a democratically elected tribal council, who served in staggered, three-year terms. The tribe's current administration is:

Artwork and material culture

Historically the Quileute were talented builders and craftsmen. Like many other tribes in the region, they were excellent boat and canoe makers. They could make canoes for whaling, which could hold tons of cargo and many men. They had cedar canoes ranging in size from small boats that could hold two people to giant vessels up to 58 metres (190 ft) long and capable of holding up to 6,000 pounds. The modern clipper ship's hull uses a design much like the canoes used by the Quileutes. The Quileutes used the resources from the land to make tools and other items. In the region, almost everything was made out of wood. Necessities like utensils, clothing, weapons, and paints were made from the available natural resources. In terms of arts and crafts, the Quileute Tribe is best known for their woven baskets and dog-hair blankets. The tribe would raise specially bred, woolly dogs for their hair, which they would spin and weave into blankets. They would also weave incredibly fine baskets that were so tightly woven that they could hold water. They could boil water in some of them. Using cedar bark, they made waterproof skirts and hats to shield their bodies against the heavy rainfall in the region.


The Quileute have extensive knowledge of the medicinal qualities of their homelands' flora. They use velvetleaf huckleberries, Vaccinium myrtilloides , by eating the uncooked berries, stewing the berries to make a sauce, and canning the berries and using them as food. [4]

Religion and cosmology

The Quileute's belief system holds that every person had an individual guardian. They would pray to the guardian, along with the sun and Tsikáti (the universe). Much of their original religion was lost after the disruption of European encounter, diseases, losses and colonization. [5] James Island, an island visible from First Beach, has played a role in all aspects of Quileute beliefs and culture. Originally called A-Ka-Lat ("Top of the Rock"), it was used as a fortress to keep opposing tribes out and served as a burial ground for chiefs.

As told much in their folklore, the Quileute descended from wolves. Quileute myths proclaim that the two-sided mythical character known as Dokibatt and K’wa’iti was responsible for creating the first human of the Quileute tribe by transforming a wolf. In the beginning there were five tribal societies that represented the elk hunter, the whale hunter, the fisherman, the weather predictor, and the medicine man. The medicine man honored the creator with the wolf dance. Quileute folklore is still very much alive in the area of the Quileute Nation near La Push. [6]


The Quileute tribe speaks a language called Quileute or Quillayute, which is part of the Chimakuan family of languages. The Chimakum, who also spoke a Chimakuan language (called Chemakum, Chimakum, or Chimacum,) were the only other group of people to speak a language from this language family.

In 1999, the last native speaker of the Quileute language died, meaning the language is considered extinct, although three or four users in their 50s retain some knowledge of vocabulary. [7] Up until then, it was spoken only by tribal elders at La Push, and some of the Makah.[ citation needed ]

Quileute is one of the 13 known languages that are recorded to have no nasal consonants. [8] The tribe is now trying to prevent the loss of the language by teaching it in the Quileute Tribal School, using books written for the students by the tribal elders. [9]


The Quileute relationship with European and Euro-American colonizers was similar to many other tribes' experiences. Their first contact with Europeans occurred in 1775 when a Spanish ship missed its landing, and the Quileute enslaved the crew. This happened again in 1787 with a British ship and in 1808 with a Russian ship. The first official negotiations with the United States government occurred in 1855 when Isaac Stevens and the Quileute signed the Treaty of Olympia. They ceded great amounts of land and agreed to resettle on the Quinault Reservation.[ citation needed ]

ARTICLE 1. The said tribes and bands hereby cede, relinquish, and convey to the United States all their right, title, and interest in and to the lands and country occupied by them…

Article 11 of the Treaty of Olympia was a single sentence:

ARTICLE 11. The said tribes and bands agree to free all slaves now held by them, and not to purchase or acquire others hereafter.

This article took away an integral part of the culture of the Northwest Coastal tribes, the rights to possess slaves. Their culture had been focused on possessions and they had always owned slaves. With the U.S. they were forced to give up a key part of their unique history and culture. Later, in 1882, A.W. Smith came to La Push to teach the native children. He made a school and started to change the names of the people from tribal names to ones from the Bible. In 1889, after years of this not being enforced, President Cleveland gave the Quileute tribe the La Push reservation. 252 residents moved there and in 1894, 71 people from the Hoh River got their own reservation. In 1889 a colonizer who wanted the land at La Push started a fire that burned down all the houses on the reservation, along with many artifacts from the days before the Europeans came.[ citation needed ]

Quileute tribe in fiction

In Susan Sharpe's 1991 novel Spirit Quest, eleven-year-old Aaron Singer spends part of his summer vacation on the Quileute Indian Reservation in Washington. There he becomes friends with Robert, a Quileute boy. At the encouragement of his family, who no longer incorporate many of their traditions into daily life, Robert attends tribal school to learn Quileute language and culture. At Aaron's urging, the boys go together on their version of a "spirit quest", where Aaron finds and saves a trapped eagle. Though he admires and respects Robert's culture, Aaron realizes that he can never be a part of it the way Robert is. Aaron's initially romantic view is replaced by deeper understanding. [10]

Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series features Jacob Black and other werewolf characters, all fictional members of the Quileute tribe and residents of La Push. This received mixed to negative reception due to Meyer's invention of Quileute legends, and her depiction of the tribe as violent and sexist.


  1. "Quileute". Forvo.
  2. Mithun, Marianne (2001). The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 20. ISBN   978-0-521-29875-9.
  3. "Quileute Tribal Council" . Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  4. Reagan, Albert B., 1936, Plants Used by the Hoh and Quileute Indians, Kansas Academy of Science 37:55-70, page 67
  5. Schmidt, Rob. "Genuine Quileute history and culture". bluecorncomics.com. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
  6. Ruby, Robert H.; Brown Arthur (1986). A Guide to the Indian Tribes of the Pacific Northwest. Google Books. p. 171
  7. "Quileute". Ethnologue. 19 November 2019.
  8. "Absence of Common Consonants". World Atlas of Language Structure (WALS) Online.
  9. "The Quileute Language". Quileute Nation.
  10. "Spirit Quest". www.publishersweekly.com. Retrieved 2021-04-16.

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