Ghost Canoe: Setting the Stage Directions

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Name: ___________________________

Date: ____________________________

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Ghost Canoe: Setting the Stage
Directions: In order to get the most out of this novel, we need to learn about the historical context of the book. Start by reading the front and back covers, and the title page. Read the Author’s Note (p. 194), then complete the attached group activity.
PART ONE: Questions from the front and back covers, and the title page

  1. Who is the author of Ghost Canoe?

  1. When was this book published?

  1. Who is the protagonist? How old is he?

  1. What do you think is going to be the main conflict in the story?

PART TWO: Questions from the Author’s Note

5) Is Ghost Canoe fiction or non-fiction?

  1. What year does this story take place?

  1. Where does the story take place?

  1. Two of the main characters in the book are based on real people. Who are these two characters?

  1. What language do you think you’ll see scattered throughout this book?


Two articles are attached. You are to read one of these articles (your teacher will assign it), fill out the chart, then share your responses with other people in your group.

Important Information about the Setting

Important Information about the Makah

Tatoosh Island
Tatoosh Island lies about a half mile off Cape Flattery on the Makah Indian Reservation, on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. This is the northwestern most point in the continental United States, although the island itself is not open to the public. The Makah Nation owns the island, and the lighthouse is owned and maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard.

An extremely wild, wet, and windy place, Tatoosh was the ancestral summer fishing headquarters for the Makah.

An Island of History
     Tatoosh is actually the old tip of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, the former Cape Flattery, before wind, waves and weather wore a channel between the current Cape and the island.
     Although the distance seems minuscule — less than a mile — Tatoosh is actually remote. Currents and tides keep all but the most knowledgeable (or foolhardy) explorers away. Even if you could get your boat out to the island, there’s no place to land unless you can haul your boat up on the beach.
     Tatoosh itself is actually a set of islets, most of which are connected by a beach at low tide.

Tatoosh Island in the late 1800s, complete with Indian salmon camp. (S.G. Morse)
Historically the Makah Indians used the island as a base from which to launch whaling, sealing and fishing expeditions. During the 1800s, European settlers took over the island and built the lighthouse and other buildings. Eventually, over 70 people lived on Tatoosh. There’s even a graveyard.
     Folks gradually moved off, as technology began to replace people and the Coast Guard moved its base of operations. During the 1980s, the federal government gave the island back to its original owners, the Makah. Shortly after that, the Coast Guard restationed the lighthouse keepers to the mainland, and Tatoosh went to the birds, so to speak, and to other life.
     Today, most of the buildings have been removed and the top of the island has been recolonized by native shrubs, salmonberry and salal. Only a few botanical specimens remind us of the settlement that once flourished here: double daffodils in the spring and an heirloom strain of Crocosmia, which blooms orange against the white concrete of our water cistern in midsummer.
     Amazingly, no rodents inhabit the island, even after the era of people. Considering that rats and mice are common stowaways on boats and in dry stores, we can only imagine that they must have died out during particularly hard winters.
     For the murres and other birds, the absence of mammals helps because it means fewer egg and chick predators to worry about. As a consequence, seabirds can nest anywhere on the island — and they do!

Cape Flattery, Tatoosh Island, Washington - 1857

Not open to the public. Owned and managed by Coast Guard. Active aid to navigation.

Tatoosh Island named in 1788 by Captain John Meares, who named it after Chief Tatooche of the Makah Indians. Tatoosh means Thunderbird.

It is located at the northwest corner of the forty-eight contiguous United States as well as entrance to Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The lighthouse on Tatoosh Island is one of the original 16 lighthouses designated by the U.S. Lighthouse Service to be built on the West coast. There was trouble between the Native American Indians and both the survey and construction crews. The Makah Indians had long made the island their summer home and used it to catch salmon, spear whales, and plant potatoes --as well as for their potlatches (ceremonies in which Indian hosts gave away lots of their possessions). The first Americans built temporary fortresses to keep the Native American Indians out. When the second survey crew came, they infected the Native American Indians with small pox, and wiped out more than 500 of (about half) their tribe. The Native American Indians were very resentful of the "Bostons" because of this. The construction crew built fortresses had guards and prepared for attack. The Native American Indians didn’t attack, but stole food, tools and clothes and eventually became curious and just got in the way. The lighthouse took 1 1/2 years to build because of the slow arrival of materials and the hostilities.

This lighthouse is noted for troubles with its keepers. The first four keepers left within months as a result of their fear of the Native Americans, and with their difficulty in obtaining mail and supplies. Two early keepers got into an argument over breakfast and threw hot coffee at each other, scalding each other. They decided to have a duel to the death, but after each emptied his pistol without wounding the other, they called a truce and later became friends. Later they learned that their buddies had loaded the pistols with blanks.

The isolation got to them -- before telephones, their only communication was via the infrequent stops by the tenders. Indian paddlers used to deliver mail, personnel, and supplies. One tenacious Native American, "Old Doctor" crashed three canoes against the rocks. Telephone cables often broke in storms.

In 1883, a weather station was put up -- this was a good place for it. It recorded an average of 215 inches of rain per year.

Makah Background Information:

One common misunderstanding about Makah people is that the culture has stayed exactly the same for thousands of years. The ancient way of life for Makah people really ended when the first non-Indians came into contact with the tribe in 1788. This period of time is called the historic period because there are written documents that provide us with information regarding life at this time. Why did the onset of contact with non-Indians herald the end of the ancient way of life? There are many reasons. Non-Indian people brought foreign goods, like guns and alcohol, to Makah people. They also wanted goods from Makah territory, often in amounts that the environment could not sustain. For example, European trade demands for sea otter and northern fur seal pelts upset the natural balance of the Makah coast, and both of these species were almost hunted to extinction. Much later, commercial European and American whaling ships harvested far more whales than the ecosystem could support, placing the gray and humpback populations in grave danger. By the 1920s, Makahs voluntarily stopped whale hunting because there were virtually no whales left in their waters.

Not all of the changes to the ancient Makah way of life were related to natural resources. Religion, family life, politics, and art were affected as well. Diseases that were unknown to the Makah population, like smallpox and measles, caused epidemics that devastated the tribe. Missionaries tried to wipe out ancient Makah ceremonies like potlatches, and replace these events with Christian practices. Makah families were forced to leave their traditional longhouses, where many related families lived and worked together, in order to live in single family houses. This change disrupted the way families interacted with each other and raised their children.

These changes did not happen overnight. The Spanish established the first European settlement on Makah land in 1792, but this fort lasted only a few months before the Makahs forced the occupants to abandon their efforts. From this time till the 1850s, there are not many documents that provide us with information about the Makahs. We can assume that the bulk of the cultural changes up to this point had to do with trade goods and natural resources, and the affects that these changes had on the ancient status system. For example, a man who never had access to status or wealth in ancient times because of family restrictions, might have the opportunity to change his place in life during the historic period. The introduction of new trade goods and networks allowed some people to accumulate the wealth necessary to hold potlatches, without being the head of a family. This change caused a number of problems in the old system of social and family status.

During the historic period, the most drastic changes in Makah life began in the 1850s. A smallpox epidemic in 1852 decimated the Makah population and caused one of the five ancient villages, Biheda, to be abandoned. This loss was not the only problem. The extreme number of fatalities further disrupted the line of authority in most families. In addition, knowledge of the critical components of some ceremonies and rituals were suddenly lost. People also died without transmitting ceremonial rights or privileges through a potlatch. Three years later, Makah life would change forever.

On January 31, select Makahs representing villages and families signed the Treaty of Neah Bay with the United States government. In this treaty, Makahs gave up territory while maintaining particular rights, like whale and seal hunting, and fishing in usual and accustomed areas. In exchange, the United States government agreed to provide education and health care, among other things. The Treaty of Neah Bay created the Makah Reservation, and guaranteed the daily presence of the American government in Makah life.

The Treaty of Neah Bay also gave the name, Makah, to the "People who live near the Rocks and the Seagulls". The Makah language was not used when the treaty was negotiated, so the government used the Salish language name for the tribe. The current name is really an incorrect pronunciation of a Salish term that means "generous with food". So, from this time on, the tribe has been known by this name instead of the one from their own language.

In order to make sure that the government's orders were carried out, a succession of federal officials were assigned to the reservation. The man in charge of the reservation was called an Indian Agent, and some stayed at the Makah post longer than others. Some agents were also crueler than others. The federal correspondence and annual reports of each agent provide valuable information about this part of the historic period.

A good example has to do with the American government's decision to destroy the Makah language and culture. The school that was established on the reservation in 1862 was actually a tool to reduce the influence of Makah families on their own children, while increasing the influence of the American way of life. It is ironic to note that the first school teacher on the reservation, James Swan, wrote the first ethnography of the Makah people; this document would play a large role in modern efforts to restore the culture during the 1970s.

Another way to upset the Makah culture was to actually outlaw potlatches. Even though potlatches were illegal by the 1870s, Makah people still recognized the value of this cultural institution, and held these gatherings in inaccessible places like Tatoosh Island, an island off the tip of Cape Flattery. Other Makahs pretended to adopt American cultural patterns, and told agents that they were holding birthday or other acceptable American parties. In these cases, agents were agreeable, and even pleased, to believe Makahs were adapting so well, but were generally disappointed that the potlatch was so difficult to eliminate. By 1890, Agent McGlinn was still trying to eradicate the potlatch, with little success.

The American government continued to control the fate of the Makah Tribe into the twentieth century, and encouraged more contact between the Makah people and other Americans. The United States granted all American Indian people citizenship and the right to vote in 1924. State Road 112 connected the reservation to the rest of the Olympic Peninsula in 1931, increasing access between the Makah people and the rest of American society. In spite of these things, Makah people still wanted to have a more significant voice in their affairs. The opportunity to have local Makah control over the reservation came in 1934, and marks the beginning of the modern culture of the Tribe.
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