Dreams of My Ancestors

Stories of community impact brought to you by our wonderful volunteer storytellers, writer Tom Moore and photographer Jon Kaplan.

“When I see my land, I want to sing. When I see my land, I want to cry.” *

For millennia Jefferson County has been inhabited by the Coast Salish Tribes including the S’Klallam, Suquamish, Makah, Chemakum, Quileute, and Twana/Skokomish nations. Today, however, some historians believe the Chemakum people to be extinct. Naiome Krienke disagrees.

Her heritage is S’Klallam and Makah, but her bloodline began generations ago as Chemakum. Her great, great grandparents and family lived on the lands ranging from Port Townsend to Hood Canal.

As a young child, Naiome would hear from her teachers, “Oh no, sweetie, the Chemakum people are extinct.” As a young woman, Naiome desired to rediscover the narratives of her ancestors, and to make it known to indigenous and non-indigenous people alike that Chemakum are not extinct. They are here and have stories to tell. Now, in her 40’s, she has the opportunity to do exactly that. 

Early this year, Naiome brought her vision to Jefferson Community Foundation (JCF). Inspired by her story and the legacy she intended to build, staff set to task connecting her with like-minded donors and community partners in JCF’s network of changemakers. The result was a grant supporting not only research into Chemakum history but the construction of a traditional community longhouse.

All to, “bring the culture of the longhouse back to Chemakum / SKlallam territory. To remember and uplift the ancestors and descendants of the indigenous peoples of this place,” Naiome says.

Connections like these are a result JCF’s ongoing work to not only understand the landscape of need in Jefferson County – the trends, obstacles, and opportunities that define our community’s health – but also to listen to and preserve cultural heritage. When history is lost, so too is a deeper, richer sense of community. Naiome’s desire to recover and retell the stories of her people resonated with JCF and donors like Becky and Dale Nienow.

The Nienow’s retired to Port Townsend to be closer to family after years of active involvement in the nonprofit sector. Keen to bring their philanthropy home to their new community, but unfamiliar with the landscape, they were recommended to join in a JCF Giving Circles.

Giving Circles are a way to help neighbors, friends and family members come together to learn about the needs of the community, discuss how they could make a positive impact, and then pool their charitable donations to fund specific efforts or organizations.

“Our relationship with JCF really began when we joined a Giving Circle,” Becky says. “Having their guidance was invaluable. They helped us figure out the best ways to look at a range of issues and understand how we could best address them.”

Encouraged by the success of their Giving Circles, the Nienow’s established a local Donor Advised Fund and, for the past four years, have worked closely with JCF to review opportunities and allocate grants through their DAF each year. This year, as they were still reeling from the murder of George Floyd and racial injustices suffered by the BIPOC community nationwide, they wanted to, as Dale puts it, “Continue to be aware and appalled, but not to feel helpless. Rather, find ways to help.”

For the Nienow’s, Naiome’s story resonated. 

“The notion that identity of the Chemakum in this area has been disappeared, and the idea that you would have someone wanting to say, ‘No, we’re still here, and we have a story’ – that’s the spirit we need in our community,” Dale says. “We don’t need to be separate. Naiome’s idea is a brilliant vision for bringing us together in a way that hasn’t happened over the past centuries.”

Visions, however, usually need a bit of help. Since Naiome is not a 501(c)3 organization but rather a working mother, gifting to her directly would have been complicated for the Nienow’s. Partnering with JCF, the trio enlisted the help of Black Lives Matter of Jefferson County, to serve as a fiscal sponsor for fundraising.

For Naiome, the grant will allow her to walk the land literally and figuratively. As she scouts for a location for the longhouse build, she will also retrace and reconstruct her family’s history in the area. Her personal story as well as that of her people over the past centuries has been, as she admits, traumatic. Colonization of tribal lands, violent disenfranchisement, children lost to residential schools have not just diminished the number of Chemakum in the area, but for far too many, also their desire to even remember their history.

As Naiome puts it, “It is good walking around and seeing the places my ancestors lived. Recent generations have pulled away from the land and have not been living the way we should and that causes us to feel a disconnect with the Earth – a connection we need. I’m not doing that with my children.”

Instead, she will be compiling recorded historical documents and oral histories from the community and Chemakum elders and share what she learns for the time being. But in her dream of dreams, her stories and history come alive in a traditional longhouse built on Chemakum land. A ceremonial place where, as Naiome explains, “We can hold potlatches with the community and open up a great doorway of healing – healing that comes from people knowing that we – Chemakum  – exist and by saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that. Now I do.”

* According to Johnny Moses, a Tulalip Native American fluent in 8 Native languages, this is the translation of “Chemakum.”