A Dispatch from Taholah – Home of the Chitwhins

January 21, 2016 BY Nielson, CCC-SLP

While I am constantly learning at work, no matter where I am, my contract this year has put me in the role of student in more ways than any other contract I have taken.  I have had lessons in an unexpected range of topics including Geography, Psychology, Sociology, History, Politics and Geology.

darci-canoe taholah


Taholah, Washington is a tiny town in the Quinault Indian Nation on the Washington coast.  Highway 109 (the highway that goes along the coast of Washington) ends in Taholah.  When the kids in Taholah tell me they went to the store, they mean the Walmart 45 minutes away in Aberdeen.

Psychology and Sociology

I am fascinated with what makes people choose to live in this remote place, and what keeps them going as teachers and administrators and families. What keeps a community together?  How a student’s outlook on life is formed? What motivates families and communities? This community is teaching me so much about a way of life that I sadly know very little about.  And that’s not including what I learn in this area from all the This American Life podcasts I get to listen to on the 3.5 hour drive there and back!


I am also only scratching the surface on the history of this place and this community.  A place, I am embarrassed to admit, I didn’t even know existed in September.  I am so grateful that some of my students need help in comprehension of history materials, so I get to dive in as well!Taholah bear


There is so much in this area to learn!  The most practical thing I have learned so far is that, if I am stopped for a traffic violation, I have two choices:  1.  I can stay on the highway and be subject to the laws and procedures of Washington State, or 2. I can pull the slightest bit off the pavement and be subject to the laws and procedures of the Quinault tribal government.  Fascinating!


My first day in Taholah was on the day of their earthquake drill.  As I walked up the slight incline that was supposed to save all of us from a tsunami, I learned that the whole town is considering moving to higher ground! They are already in the process of building a new school, since the current town and school is only about 10 feet above sea level.  I used google maps to find a hotel 90 ft above sea level and I’m still not so comfy when I am there (despite the amazing views!).Darci's view from her Taholah hotel room

Overall, I am so grateful for the opportunity to work and learn in this community, and thankful that they have welcomed me into their ranks. Oh, and just in case you were wondering, chitwhin is the Quinault word for “black bear” Go chitwhins!