PORT GAMBLE, WA – Port Gamble S’Klallam tribal member and Chairman Jeromy Sullivan has died after a brief illness. He was 50.
Chairman Sullivan was first elected to Tribal Council in 2005 and became Chairman in 2009. A beloved and charismatic leader, he presided over tremendous environmental, cultural, and economic milestones for his tribe. Guided by a love of family, community, and nature, he felt deep connections to the water and the forest and was passionate about protecting the environment and tribal treaty rights.
“Words are hollow right now, we wish we could make the hurt go away, but Jeromy was one of ours,” said Ron Charles, former Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribal Chairman. “We watched him grow up with that winning personality. He will not be forgotten.”
Early on in his tenure as Chairman, Sullivan worked alongside his tribe’s Natural Resources team to help educate state, local, and environmental leaders about the need to cleanup Port Gamble Bay, an important ancestral waterway adjacent to the tribe’s reservation. The bay had been subject to close to 150 years of pollution from a sawmill that operated at the town of Port Gamble.
A lifelong diver and shellfish harvester, Chairman Sullivan saw first-hand the impacts caused by the decades of wood waste and chemicals left behind by mill operations. He was determined to restore and protect the bay for future generations.
Through his advocacy, tenacity, and good humor, he persuaded those who previously knew little about the tribe’s history in the area to care passionately about protecting the bay and the tribe’s ability to practice their treaty rights. He was a founder of the Kitsap Forest & Bay Project, which sought to conserve almost 7,000 acres around Port Gamble, including shoreline along the bay.
In 2014, a cleanup deal was negotiated between the mill’s former operators, Pope Resources, and various state agencies. In-water work began in the bay the next year with cleanup operations completing in 2017. The cleanup included the removal of over 8,500 mainly creosote pilings, the largest such operation in Washington State’s history.
In recognition of his work to restore and protect Port Gamble Bay, Chairman Sullivan was awarded the Billy Frank Jr. Natural Resources Protection Award.
In 2019, Chairman Sullivan was a part of a team that struck a historic deal with Pope Resources, which included the purchase of 937 acres adjacent to the reservation and the exclusive rights to harvest shellfish from company-owned tidelands. In 2021, development rights for the original mill site, once the home of the tribe’s ancestral village, were purchased by the Port Gamble S’Klallams – a deal that was unthinkable during years of tense relations between the tribe and Pope Resources. Chairman Sullivan’s optimism and ability to appreciate how jobs at the mill kept generations of S’Klallams together – his own father worked there for 33 years – helped push the negotiations along.
When Chairman Sullivan came into office, the Port Gamble S’Klallam’s land holdings totaled was 1,340 acres. Today, it is over 2,700 acres with significant strides having been made to place tribally owned land into trust status.
Under the Chairman’s leadership, the tribe also saw significant expansion to programs that support the health and welfare of the Port Gamble S’Klallam community. These include becoming the first tribe in the nation to run its own foster care and adoption program, the creation of a human dignity approach to reentry that has become a model to other tribes and municipalities, and the 2021 opening of a state-of-the-art health center.
During COVID, Chairman Sullivan provided steady leadership and comfort however he could. Understanding early on that people felt isolated during lockdowns, he delivered the latest news and health guidance related to the pandemic from his home via video on Facebook. Many tribal members looked forward to his broadcasts as a trustworthy source of information during an uncertain time. He encouraged neighbors and family members to check in on one another and support each other however they could.
Before being elected to Tribal Council, Chairman Sullivan was employed by his tribe, first in the original bingo hall and later in IT. He was proud of the jobs the tribe was able to create for tribal members and those in the community at-large. During his time as Chairman, he was able to help increase these opportunities through the expansion of the tribe’s economic holdings, including the opening of a hotel connected to The Point Casino.
Chairman Sullivan is survived by his wife, Toni, and their children, Samantha and Jacob; as well as his parents, Dianna Purser and Melvin (Poe) Sullivan; and his brothers, Chad and Corey. Passed on before him are his grandparents: Aaron Purser, Geraldine Heimann, and Frank and Cyrene (Dolly) Sullivan.