What it was like being adopted into the Quinault Indian Nation

'I was now officially a member of a tribe I've always felt a part of'

State Press arts and culture reporter Joseph Perez traveled to Taholah, Washington to be adopted in his Native American tribe on April 7. Below is Perez's personal account of this experience.


On April 7, as a 19 year old, I traveled to rural western Washington to be adopted into the Quinault Indian Nation.The QIN is a small tribe tucked in the forests along the coast of Washington, seven hours from the Canadian border.

I drove there with my father, stepmother and two siblings. We followed a winding two-lane highway through a thick forest of the greenest trees a kid from Arizona will ever see. 

In the back of a rented minivan during a 45-minute drive from Aberdeen — the hometown of my father and Kurt Cobain — to Taholah, a small town where the QIN is based, I mumbled the long speech I wrote to deliver at the council meeting to which we were driving.

We had already gotten enough signatures from the tribe to put my adoption up to a vote of the general council. The final step was to appear in front of the council and argue in favor of my adoption.

Getting adopted into the tribe meant the absolute world to me, and the chance of rejection was a very real threat that ate away at my peace of mind.

We arrived at the Taholah School, a small campus that with an elementary, middle and high school. I sat clutching the Moleskine journal containing my speech. 

I was shaking, partially from nervousness and partially from the harsh ocean wind that carried with it the ever-present Washington rain.

As we walked into the gymnasium filled with tribal members, I looked around and saw many familiar faces, one of which was our sponsor, Steve Charley.

Seeing a familiar and friendly face washed away the anxiety and fear that had previously consumed me.

But as it turns out, to both my relief and anger, I wouldn't have to say a word. I would discover from my father’s itinerary that Charley would be speaking on my family's behalf.

I had written out an 800-word speech for no reason, but at least at this point I could stop worrying about stuttering or whether I would say the right things to win the hearts of the tribal members.

We arrived early and walked to the cafeteria where vendors had set up shop, selling art, clothing, coffee, pastries and frybread clam tacos. Clam digging is a very big part of Quinault life, both economically and culturally.


I felt at home looking at the beautiful, traditional art of the Pacific Northwest American Indians. Salmon, bears and elk painted and drawn ever so creatively looked back at me as I stared in loving wonder. It's an unmistakable style — and the inspiration for the Seattle Seahawks logo

Once it was time for the meeting to begin, we took our seats in the gym bleachers among about 300 tribal members. I twiddled my fingers, anxiously waiting for the adoption segment of the council meeting to begin.

After a public forum of sorts, filled with complaints and concerns of tribal members, it was finally time for the adoption applicants to stand before the tribe. I stood with my father, two siblings and our sponsor in a line of about 50 people.

Sponsors spoke for about 15 seconds each advocating for their applicants, and after what seemed like an eternity, we came up to the microphone.

Charley introduced my siblings and me to the tribe and went on to tell a little bit about our ancestry, including that I am a descendant of Chief Taholah, after whom the town and an annual weekend-long festival has been named.

This fact drew a low murmur from the crowd and my chest swelled with pride.

We walked back to our seats and anxiously awaited the results as the tribe filled out ballots on who should be adopted as a Quinault.

After two painstaking hours, a projector screen turned on. It read: “ALL ADOPTION APPLICANTS HAVE BEEN ACCEPTED.”

I was now officially a member of a tribe I've always felt a part of.

But for my father, my ancestry had never been in doubt. As the projector turned on, I tearily remembered something he told me when we began the enrollment process.

“Son, you’ve always been a Quinault," he said. "We just have to get paperwork for it."


Reach the reporter at japere38@asu.edu or follow @jsphprzprof on Twitter.

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