Suquamish celebrates start of museum project

SUQUAMISH — Tears streamed down Suquamish tribe member Marilyn Jones' face as she looked out onto the property that will soon house the history of the Suquamish Tribe.

"I was born and raised in Suquamish," Jones said. "This place is not only a part of me; it is me."

Jones was among a crowd of about 75 people who attended the groundbreaking ceremony for a new 9,000-square-foot Suquamish Museum Friday morning. The new museum will be located at South and Division streets, near the tribal government offices in Suquamish Village.

The ceremony began with a site blessing, followed by an opening song, remarks by elders and board members, and recognition of the project team and donors.

"This is a day that will I will remember for the rest of my life," said Marilyn Wandrey, a tribal elder and member of the Suquamish Museum board. "My father always said, 'People need to know who they are and where they come from so they can be happy with who they are and move forward.'"

Wandrey recalled when her father, Lawrence Webster, a former board member, first petitioned for the board to use a spare room to create a museum for the tribe. Eventually, a museum opened in June of 1983 on Sandy Hook Road.

"It's important for us to learn about our history, but it is also essential to teach others outside of our community who we are, " Wandrey said. "That way, people can see that everyone in the world comes from a similar background. We all started off as hunters and gatherers and we all have stories to share."

The new building's exterior will resemble a traditional longhouse. It will have three times the space of the current museum, which museum employees say they outgrew years ago.

"The current building has been around for 20 plus years so we have outgrown storage capabilities and our collections and archives require more space," said Janet Smoak, museum director. "The new building will have updated collections, storage facilities, a theater room for public meetings, a nice gift shop, exhibits and more."

Smoak noted visitors from all over the world come to the museum.

"It is critical for us to have a facility that allows us to really show the history of our area for tourists," she said. "This museum will tell the story of the first peoples of Puget Sound."

Site work begins in the next few weeks and the new building is set to open June 2012. The current museum on Sandy Hook will remain open for nine more months and then will be incorporated into the Suquamish Education Department.

"It is very exciting to be here today and see what will unfold," said Lisa Key Thomas, Bainbridge Island resident. "I think this new museum is a really important piece of the puzzle needed to bridge our two communities here together."

Suquamish Tribe member Rob Purser hopes local youth develop an appreciation for where they came from.

"I think it is essential for our youth to learn about their ancestors," he said. "History is the most important thing a group of people can hold."

The new museum also contributes to the evolution of the Suquamish Cultural District. The tribe added a new early learning center, gathering hall and dock in recent years.

"This is the last piece of our capital campaign to enhance our area and expand our government," Suquamish Chairman Leonard Forsman said. "This is a vital thing we've been doing because I think people around the region have been watching us. So, they have now seen us not just conserve our culture, but create jobs and reach out to people outside our community."

Renovations to Chief Seattle's gravesite will be dedicated Saturday at 10:30 a.m. in Suquamish. Check back for continued coverage.

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