Years ago, long before any of our ancestors were alive, a man named Kwate walked the beaches of the Olympic Peninsula coast. Maybe man isn’t the right word to describe him, as he was the Great Spirit and Transformer of the Queets and Quinault peoples. Known as the changer, Kwate was walking along the beach on the Pacific Ocean when he came along to a new river. Awe-inspiring and new, he paused and decided to take a rest.
Sitting at the bank of the river, he meditated for days, losing himself in the beauty of the Olympic Peninsula. He than walked through the river, experiencing the cold water, nearly losing circulation from the glacial runoff. As he rubbed his legs to warm them back up, dirt flaked off his legs, mixing with the small amount of dead skin on his hands and shins. He threw the dirt and skin mix into the water and instead of sinking or being washed downstream, they became people, the original members of the tribe. He named them “K’witz”, which translates into “being made out of dirt and skin” in the Quinault language.
Many years later, white settlers tried to rename the river and the area to “Little River”, but luckily smarter head prevailed and we still call this quiet, salmon fed, snow melt river as the Queets River. Next time you are driving along Highway 101 on the Olympic Peninsula, stop in at the Queets entrance. Just a few miles down a dirt road, draped with large maples and alder trees, you will cross a river. Take some time, meditate and thank Kwate for blessing the land with such timeless beauty and wonderful native culture.
For more information on the Quinault Nation: http://quinaultindiannation.com
Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest, by Ella Clark University of California Press 1953