Who Were Bainbridge Island’s Original Inhabitants?

By Nanda Olney

For thousands of years, the land we know as Bainbridge Island, and the greater South Coast Salish area beyond it, was home to the Suquamish Tribe. One visit to the Suquamish Museum will immerse you in culture and history so deep, you’ll realize how inextricably linked native history is to the earth beneath our feet.

Meaning “people of the clear saltwater,” the Suquamish and their ancestors relied on cooperation and perseverance to survive and live at one with nature, taking only what they needed in a picturesque and bountiful region. They passed tradition, education and skill from generation to generation through storytelling, ingenuity and strong leadership. The native people of this region lived in accordance with the seasons, built canoes and fished, and connected with and protected the land that sustained them.

At Agate Point, on the north end of Bainbridge Island, a “haleelt,” or “marked face,” petroglyph stands as a monument to native influence here. Archaeologists believe the rock carvings—seemingly depicting figures and faces—were etched 1,500 to 3,000 years ago.

Today, members of the Suquamish Tribe carry forward the rich history and traditions of their ancestors. Through the Suquamish Museum, the Tribe funds language programs, education and cultural activities for Tribal families as well as educational programs for the public. For more, visit suquamish.nsn.us/suquamish-museum/.