By JOE SMILLIE Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — A state panel will decide later this month whether they will ask the National Park Service to list Tse-whit-zen on the National Register of Historic Places.
“It’s something we’re really ecstatic about,” Lower Elwha Klallam Chairwoman Frances Charles said.
“It means a lot to all the tribal communities. This recognition would give us the protection of our ancestral grave sites down there.”
Artifacts and graves were unearthed after state contractors began to build a dry dock to build pontoons for the Hood Canal bridge in 2003 on the site, now bare, on Marine Drive.
The area that once was the Tse-whit-zen village, which is considered to be 2,700 years old, produced a treasure of tribal artifacts.
Hundreds of the tribe’s ancestors are exhumed from the site, then reburied there in 2008.
The state Advisory Council on Historic Preservation will consider the village as it prepares recommendations to the National Park Service for additions to the National Register of Historic Places on June 20.
The council will meet at 9:30 a.m. in the La Conner Civic Garden Club, 622 S. Second St., in the Skagit County town of La Conner.
If the council recommends listing the site, then Allyson Brooks, state historic preservation officer, if she agrees, will forward the recommendation to the keeper of the National Register at the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., for review and comment.
After a public comment period, the keeper will make a decision, a process that could take several months, said Greg Griffith, deputy state historic preservation officer.
“This is the first site the tribe has been able to secure,” said Bill White, archaeologist for the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe.
Listing would allow the tribe certain tax breaks but would be useful primarily in applying for grant funding to further efforts to preserve the site, Brooks said.
“It’s really a recognition of the site more than anything,” she said. “But it is helpful as something to put down in grant applications.”
White said the tribe would like to place historical kiosks, or perhaps even an interpretive center, at the site to display the Tse-whit-zen story to visitors.
“It’s a very important site to the tribe, and it’s a story we want to tell,” he said.
Charles said the tribe has gone through six versions of the application for historic registration over the past few years as it assembled a proposal the state council felt would reach federal approval.
“This recognition has been something the tribe has been working on for a very long time,” she said.
In July, some of the artifacts exhumed from Tse-whit-zen will be displayed at the Elwha Klallam Heritage Center at 401 E. First St.
More than 900 boxes of artifacts dug up from the site have been stored at the Burke Museum at the University of Washington in Seattle since 2004.