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Young people have prominent roles at Chief Seattle Days
SUQUAMISH — There’s a belief in Indian country that decisions should be considered for their impact not just on the current generation but on the seventh generation to come.
Many of the young people at the memorial service at Chief Seattle’s gravesite Aug. 18 were likely the seventh generation born since the great Suquamish leader signed the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855. On this cool summer morning, the treaty that Seattle and other leaders signed to protect their culture in a changing West seemed prescient.
Despite the oppression of the post-treaty years, like residential schools and bans on cultural and religious practices, these children were singing ancestral songs, studying their language and lifeways, speaking the language.
Renewal Powwow and Chief Seattle Days royalty, young people honored for their involvement in their culture, joined Peg Deam in the Suquamish Gathering Song. Vincent Chargualaf, chairman of the Suquamish Youth Council, led singers in the Pole-Raising Song, which goes with the totem pole overlooking Agate Pass at Clearwater Casino Resort. Cassy George, who earned a linguistics degree at University of Oregon, offered a prayer in Lushootseed, the Suquamish language.
“When I hear you speak the language, it’s very strengthening,” said Pat John, Ahousaht First Nation, who was called as a witness at the service.
Ted George, an educator involved in the Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish communities, talked about the restoration and renewal embodied in the young people. “We’ve come through the dog days,” he said. “Now we’re reclaiming our culture.”
The memorial service seemed to set the tone for the 102nd Chief Seattle Days — three days of honoring, powwow, and sports contests. Young people were prominent throughout the annual celebration, whether racing canoes, competing in the Chief Seattle Days Royalty Pageant, or dancing in the powwow competition.
“That’s due to key efforts of people in the Tribe who have formed a link with past generations to bring the culture and make it available to our youth today,” said Deam, a master weaver. “None of these things are taught in schools. It’s through families and tribal events that young people are exposed to them and learn them and become proud Suquamish tribal members.”
The service also set the tone for the inclusiveness for which Suquamish is known. One of the witnesses called is a native of Guam who now lives on the Port Madison Indian Reservation. “I feel at home here,” he said. “Even though I’m away from home, I feel safe, that I belong here.” Puanani Burgess, a Hawaiian poet, cultural translator and activist, handed out pink Hawaiian alaea salt to attendees, to represent that we are all one people but distinctly different.
The powwow, Aug. 18-19, featured a presentation of the Aztec fire dance by the Tloke Nahuake, the Salinas family dance circle from Mexico City. Joanna Salinas said Tloke Nahuake, which means “Together United” in Nahuatl, travels extensively to share traditional dances that have been passed down from generation to generation in the Salinas family.
Deam commented later on Suquamish’s spirit of inclusiveness. “We hold a lot of respect for other cultures because it’s important to us. We understand the deep connection people have with their identity. Plus, it’s fun.”
Fun indeed. Chief Seattle Days actually began Aug. 16 with a golf tournament at White Horse Golf Club. Aug. 17, there was the Chief Seattle Days Royalty Pageant, Healing of the Canoe Youth Honoring, day one of a co-ed softball tournament, Canoe Journey honoring, and a Coastal Jam. Aug. 18 began with the memorial service at Chief Seattle’s gravesite, followed by the parade, softball tournament, day one of canoe races, horseshoe tournament, and powwow. Aug. 19 featured a 5K Run/Walk, Elders Run in the House of Awakened Culture, canoe races, horseshoe tournament, powwow and powwow awards ceremony.