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How the Suquamish Tribe Harvests Clams in Washington State

The tribe’s harvesters use generations-old methods to hand dig for clams and oysters

The Suquamish Tribe resides on the Port Madison Indian Reservation just northwest of Seattle. The proximity to water has made seafood a key part of the tribe’s culture. “Clams have always been an important food source, that’s how tribes survived,” says Tony Forsman, the general manager of Suquamish Seafood and a member of the Suquamish Tribe. “It’s who we are, it’s who the tribe is.”

Using knowledge passed down through generations, members of the tribe dig for clams and oysters with their hands along the beaches of Kitsap County in Washington. By just briefly looking at the shells they pull from the sand, experienced harvesters can distinguish among the different types of clams, including steamers, littlenecks, and manilas. “We have a lot of harvesters and Suquamish has always been that way, everybody dug clams,” says Forsman.

Not only do the Suquamish harvest and sell clams, but they also use them to celebrate, hosting clam bakes for everything from casual social gatherings to big special occasions.

The clam bakes involve a large fire pit, filled with volcanic rock, which the Suquamish collect from the beach because it holds heat well. Atop the rocks, they place a large pile of clams and oysters and cover it with a tarp until the shells of the clams open up and are ready to eat. “Some people bring their kids to Chuck E. Cheese for their birthdays, we have clam bakes on the beach for our kids for their birthdays,” says Shellene George, the acquisition coordinator of Suquamish Seafood.

Watch the full video to see how the Suquamish harvest and sell oysters and clams, and how they prepare a clam bake.

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