‘He was a peacekeeper’: Memorial pole dedicated to 1960s Suquamish chairman Charles Lawrence

A memorial pole to Charles Lawrence, tribal leader, who died in 1962, outside the Suquamish House of Awakening Culture. - Megan Stephenson / Herald
A memorial pole to Charles Lawrence, tribal leader, who died in 1962, outside the Suquamish House of Awakening Culture.
— image credit: Megan Stephenson / Herald

SUQUAMISH — Fifty years after Charles Lawrence passed away, his name evokes strong memories of the man who survived boarding school and war, of the dedicated tribal leader and devoted family man.

One of his daughters, Barbara Lawrence-Piecuch, described his life: He was removed from his family and sent to a residential school where he was forbidden to speak his language or practice his customs. He fought in World War II and nearly lost a leg in the Battle of Normandy. He returned to the U.S. and had to fight for veterans benefits.

“He hadn’t lived in a family home except when he was little,” she said. “But he made a beautiful family home for his kids. Not only was he happy, he was hilarious.” Many others told stories of Lawrence’s character during a memorial pole dedication Saturday at the Suquamish House of Awakening Culture.

Lawrence died in 1962 from an aneurysm, according to a family member. He was 39.

Lawrence worked at Keyport Naval Station after WWII, but his civic duty was to the Suquamish Tribe, according to Chairman Leonard Forsman. Lawrence was Suquamish chairman at the time of his death, and was responsible for the boat ramp used today in front of the longhouse on Miller Bay. The boat ramp is named in his honor.

He also helped resurrect Chief Seattle Days, and it was during that event in 1963 that a memorial pole was dedicated to his memory. In the 1980s, the weather-beaten pole was replaced, but it would not last long. His family asked that a new pole be created that could stand the test of time, which the council agreed to after the House of Awakened Culture was built.

The double-headed eagle pole sits in front of the longhouse, facing Miller Bay. It was raised in 2010 with a blessing, created by five carvers: Michael Pavel (Skokomish), Ed NoiseCat (Shuswap/Stlitlmx), Mark Johns-Coleson (Chehalis), Walter Lewis (Chehalis), and Qwoo-Chee Kah-Ty-Ah Moran-Lawrence (Suquamish).

Lawrence’s grandniece, Calina Lawrence, said the pole was blessed during the Canoe Journey last summer, but the family wanted to have a proper dedication as well.

“We wanted to make it as big of a deal as he was,” she said. Calina, who was raised by Lawrence’s son Billy, said she has heard many stories from different people who knew her grand-uncle, and his characteristics have been carried on by the family.

“I feel his presence through [his children],” she said.

Lawrence-Piecuch said she too heard stories about her dad after he died, some from strangers visiting the Suquamish Museum where she worked. “He was a peacekeeper,” she said. “If he heard of rumors of a gang fight ... he would go down, remind them why we needed each other.”

Forsman, on behalf of the Lawrence-Ewye family, thanked tribal council members, the carvers, Suquamish Community Development and Liberty Bay Excavating for their contributions to the memorial pole project.

Before contact, it was the responsibility of each family to watch over each other, “in a never-ending vigil,” Forsman said. Always turning their heads left and right, watching for friend or foe, the double-headed eagle is the symbol of that protection.


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