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'It's at rest again': Suquamish rededicates Chief Seattle's gravesite
SUQUAMISH — The Suquamish Tribe rededicated Chief Seattle's gravesite on Saturday. The newly carved cedar panels and concrete plaza commemorate not just the tribal leader's life, but his continued influence 155 years after his death.
Speakers at the morning ceremony discussed the need to carry on Chief Seattle's vision
"It's an honor and a responsibility," said Mary Ann Youngblood, a Suquamish tribal elder and sixth-generation descendant of Chief Seattle. "It's a responsibility not just for our family but for the whole tribe ... It's a responsibility to continue the things he started and created."
The rededication drew visitors from well beyond Suquamish. Former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels spoke about the chief's connection to his namesake city.
"We were inspired every day by his words, his actions and his life," Nickels said.
Chief Seattle's words ring the edge of the new gravesite.
“Even the rocks thrill with memories of past events,” the inscription reads, engraved in Lushootseed and in English. “The very dust beneath your feet respond(s) more lovingly to our footsteps, because it is the ashes of our ancestors. The soil is rich with the life of our kindred.”
Two cedar panels, carved by Squaxin artists Andrea and Steve Sigo, replace the two canoes that had originally ringed the gravesite at St. Peter Catholic Mission Cemetery. The canoes and supporting poles had fallen into disrepair and become dangerous, Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman said.
The new panels depict scenes from Chief Seattle's storied life: meeting the Vancouver Expedition with his grandfather off Bainbridge Island; his military campaigns; and the 1854 speech that made him a national icon.
Seattle (or Si’ahl) was born in about 1780, and died June 7, 1866. Designs found on artifacts from Old Man House, Chief Seattle's 600-foot-long Suquamish longhouse, were incorporated into the carved panels.
The process of picking the elements of the new gravesite stirred up debate within the tribe, Forsman said. Still, the final design was well received.
"I think we made all the right decisions we needed to make," he said.
The community dedicated the gravesite Saturday with drumming, singing, blessings by religious leaders and a color guard of Suquamish veterans.
Two eagles swooped over the cemetery midway through the ceremony, outlined against a brilliant blue sky.
"It's at rest again," Suquamish Tribal Council Member Bardow Lewis said of the gravesite. "This is the way it should be."
— Staff photos by Tad Sooter