Tribes from around the Northwest gathered Friday for public performances concluding the 20th annual Tribal Canoe Journeys.
SUQUAMISH — The House of Awakened Culture is filled with song and thundering drums as tribal members from around the Northwest gather for ceremonies concluding the 20th annual Tribal Canoe Journeys, culminating in at least 12 hours of public performances today.
Here just across the Agate Pass Bridge, at the Port Madison Indian Reservation, the Suquamish Tribe has hosted friends and relatives and visitors since Monday, including daily performances from noon to midnight of song, ceremony and protocol, performed in traditional regalia.
The annual canoe journeys are a revival and celebration of tribal culture, and this year’s, marking the 20th anniversary of the first canoe journey, had a special resonance and venue. The $5 million House of Awakened Culture is a longhouse-style community house, adorned with carved house posts and giant doors opening to views of the sound, and a new dock.
This is the first time the Suquamish have had a community house in which to share their culture since Old Man House was burned by the U.S. government in 1870 to discourage communal life in the longhouse, which stretched some 600 feet down the beach of Agate Passage.
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“I don’t see this as replacing it,” Leonard Forsman, tribal chairman, said. “But it’s helping awaken the culture and is bringing back the spirit of that house.” He smiled, struggling to be heard above the powerful song and blasting drums of the Lummi drum group, saying, “This is a multipurpose building with a lot of functions, but it is the house that Tribal Journeys built. This week has changed this house; it has brought a lot of spirit power. It’s very satisfying.”
For this tribe, hosting the journey is a culmination of years of work that is rebuilding this tribe, beginning in 2000 with the carving of its first cedar canoe in many years; then making the commitment to build this community house, made in 2004; then working to recover the acre of land at Old Man House Park, returned to the tribe by the state in 2005; and, finally, opening the house this year.
For a tribe of fewer than 1,000 people, it is a feat of logistics to host visitors from more than 52 tribes and indigenous nations, from as far away as New Zealand and Hawaii. About 87 canoes in all traveled to Suquamish from Bella Bella, B.C.; to Grand Ronde, Ore.; to tribes on the Washington Coast, Strait of Juan de Fuca and every point on Puget Sound.
The tribe served about 60,000 meals in all and hosted as many as 9,000 guests at one time. It took 85 vendors, 190 portable toilets and even a mobile Laundromat, shower facilities and thousands of tent sites and a fleet of 27 shuttle buses to care for every guest.
Volunteers from the tribe and the surrounding community helped, with many nontribal neighbors pitching in to do everything from helping to cook to making gifts for the visitors, such as necklaces, hats, paddles, woven wool bags, belts and headbands, afghans knitted by tribal elders, drums and baskets.
Elder Marilyn Wandrey, 69, has participated since 1989 in every journey, and captains and skippers her canoe, The Spirit of Raven.
She grew up in Indianola, and more than 40 years ago was the tribe’s first and only employee. Her office was the trunk of her car, and the tribe didn’t have a phone. Today, as a member of the tribal council, she is proud to see the tribe providing its own services, with 280 employees doing everything from fisheries management to teaching in the tribe’s schools.
She remembered her father telling her he used to watch as tribal members gathered to practice their culture at the burned scar where Old Man House used to stand. “We never lost it,” she said.
Suquamish elder Rich Demain, 81, helped carve one of the house posts in the House of Awakened Culture. Standing Friday amid canoes on the beach, with the sound of drums pouring through the open doors, he said he never thought he would live to see such a day.
“It’s been a long time coming, and it’s for everybody, not just us,” Demain said. “That’s the beauty of it.”
Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or email@example.com