In the aftermath of the social justice movement seen after George Floyd’s murder, a Washington state timber company announced Wednesday that they would freely be returning 125 acres of land to a Native American group.
Port Blakely Companies, a forestry company with operations in the United States and New Zealand, returned the 125 acres of tidelands, in addition to two miles of coastline, to the Squaxin Island Tribe. The area in question is on an inlet called Little Skookum, and restores the tribe’s access to the nearby Puget Sound, home to some of the most plentiful shellfish areas in the state.
Port Blakely stated that these shellfish beds were « a key reason [Squaxin Island Tribe] ancestors made it home for thousands of years. »
However, the land will reportedly not be developed, and will instead be used for purely ceremonial use.
In addition to these returns, the Squaxin Island Tribe signed a separate deal to purchase an additional 875 acres of forestland from Port Blakely, in total restoring over 1,000 acres of wildlands for the tribe to use.
The purchase price for the 875 acres was not disclosed.
The total land area had originally been acquired by Port Blakely in an 1854 treaty, and the head of the forestry company stated that he felt giving the land back in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement following Floyd’s murder was the right thing to do.
« 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, » Mike Warjone, president of Port Blakely U.S. Forestry, told The Seattle Times. « The obvious thing to do was simply give it back. Frankly I feel a little like, why didn’t we think of this earlier? … It’s about time. »
An additional statement released by Port Blakely stated that the company was « grateful for the relationships we’ve built with the Tribal council and hope this agreement allows them to build a legacy for generations to come. »
Squaxin Island Tribal Chair Kris Peters also released a statement, saying that « we are honored and grateful to reclaim these lands and for the return of the shoreline. The Squaxin people lived and stewarded this very land and waterway for thousands of years before it was taken from us in the mid- to late-1800s. »
Peters, as well as many other members of the Squaxin Island Tribe, are the ancestors of the original Squaxin settlers that developed the land around Little Skookum.
Peters went on to tell the Times, « 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 added that the tribe will continue to maintain a working relationship with Port Blakely, as the two parties had done for decades.
Newsweek has reached out to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs for comment.
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