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Tribal tradition

Golden Eagle Hawk, a member of the Suquamish Tribe, digs for clams at Erland’s Point last week. Tribal members are allowed to collect 50 percent of the beach’s shellfish. - Photo by Jesse Beals
Golden Eagle Hawk, a member of the Suquamish Tribe, digs for clams at Erland’s Point last week. Tribal members are allowed to collect 50 percent of the beach’s shellfish.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

I t’s a nice feeling for David Sigo to not have to look over his shoulder when he digs for clams at Erland’s Point. The point is adjacent to Naval Hospital Bremerton and is privately owned tidelands, but for Sigo and other members of the Suquamish Tribe, clamming at the point is an economic necessity and a fought-for legal right.

Sigo remembers before 1994, when the Suquamish had a legal right to clam dig on the property but whenever they were found out there, they would be escorted out by police.

The tribe members called clam-digging there “raiding.”

While taking a short break from digging, Sigo said his family history is ripe on the point. His grandfather homesteaded in the area and, from where he was clam digging, he could see the exact spot where his father was born.

“My dad was born right there, on that point,” he said, pointing to a spot near Jackson Park Navy Housing.

The members of the Suquamish Tribe will be clamming through the late spring and early summer at the point. The Suquamish have rights to 50 percent of the annual shellfish harvest in western Washington. That right springs from a 1974 District Court decision handed down by Judge George Boldt that granted tribes the right to half the harvest of salmon and steelhead in western Washington, said Suquamish Tribal spokesperson Leonard Forsman. In 1994, Federal Circuit Court Judge Edward Rafeedie ruled that right also extended to half the harvestable shellfish in western Washington.

Golden Eagle Hawk, also a Suquamish Tribal member, said his family’s history in the area goes back “mass generations. Ten thousand years, at least.”

He, too, has strong ties to Erland’s Point. Some of his fondest childhood memories, like riding a boat on the water with his father, are associated with this clam-digging spot.

He thinks the beach is a good spot for clam digging.

“It’s awesome. There are mass clams,” he said, adding that it is easy for him to reach his 200-pound, per person, per day, limit.

While there are no scales on the beach to weigh the clams as they are taken out, each tribal member uses a uniform-sized bucket to keep track of their catch. The buckets hold about 40 pounds of clams each, Forsman said.

The digs also are supervised by biologists and

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