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A living history lesson

EAST BREMERTON — Ten thousand years ago the Puget Sound water line was 200 feet lower. The earliest tribal settlers developed trails for hunting and routes to escape or charge attacks. Northwest tribes continued to settle around the Puget Sound and 1,800 years ago Suquamish tribal ancestors built the Old Man House in Suquamish at Port Madison. In the earlier days, tribal members practiced a complex spiritual system and shared the same creation stories still told today.

On March 7, about 70 people crowded into the Kitsap Historical Society Museum lecture hall in East Bremerton to hear Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman speak about the old days of Puget Sound Indian settlements.

Some who attended can recall those days themselves but some of the details have gotten fuzzy.

Old-site seasonal settlements were located all over the Puget Sound including Dyes Inlet on the Hood Canal, Poulsbo, Suquamish at Port Madison, and Bainbridge Island at what is now Battle Point, Lynnwood and Eagle Harbor.

During warm months Forsman said tribes would venture out to gather food. Their main travel was either by canoe or by foot along one of the many trails they wore in the area.

Forsman said there were trails that ran along what is now Anderson Hill, between Seabeck and Silverdale, one from Dyes Inlet to Island Lake, one from the Old Man House in Suquamish to Liberty Bay and a number of others in Port Gamble and Keyport.

Forsman showed old photos of winter houses built in colder months with cattail mats over the openings to keep in the heat.

“I once had to clarify they were the plants, not cats,” Forsman said, laughing. “That would have been a lot of cats.”

Besides leading the audience through a photo-walk of communities years ago, he also gave a peek into the complex spiritual system including spiritual guardians, hunting rituals, naming ceremonies and spirit quests.

Many places in the Puget Sound have names that relate to a creation story, Forsman said.

In Poulsbo there used to be a big rock they referred to as “Headband.” In the creation days there was a young boy who fell in love with a beautiful woman. He strung a wreath of white flowers that he placed around his head in an attempt to impress her. About three-quarters up the rock was a white stripe, the headband.

Forsman also told the creation story of the snail woman of the Sinclair Inlet who collected little children in a basket to cook and eat later. One day, as she was building the fire, the children she captured outsmarted her and pushed her into her own fire. She exploded, sending thousands of jelly fish into the inlet.

“That explains why there are still so many jellyfish,” Forsman said.

Forsman walked the audience through a timeline from 1792 when Capt. George Vancouver and his fleet set foot on Puget Sound soil, to the arrival of Catholic missionaries in 1840, to the adoption of the 1965 Tribal Constitution and instatement of the 1975 Self-Determination Act. Also included in the timeline was the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.

“At that time there was a lot of alcohol use and neglect of children,” Forsman said.

When that happened the children were shipped away, oftentimes to boarding schools where they were separated from their culture.

“The state and tribe worked together,” Forsman said. “The tribe has a lot of power over members.”

Things seem to be coming full circle and Forsman said he looks forward to the building of the “new Old Man House, down by the slab” in Port Madison. The groundbreaking ceremony for that project was Tuesday.

Located in prime position next to the water, Forsman joked “We’ll be able to see ’em coming!”

Forsman, a member of the Suquamish Canoe Family, grew up in Suquamish at the Port Madison Indian Reservation, where he still lives today with his wife Jana Rice. He has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Washington and a master’s degree in historic preservation from Goucher College in Baltimore, Md.

Forsman was also the former director of the Suquamish Museum and worked as an archaeologist for a private consulting firm.

At the end of the presentation, Jane Roth Williams, curator for the Kitsap Historical Society Museum, presented Forsman with a framed historic photo of Helen Sawyer, the great-grandaughter of Chief Sealth.

In the photo Sawyer is wearing a costume that has been in the family for generations.

The photo was printed from an original lantern slide donated to the museum in 1951 by George N. Worden who was a Kitsap County Agricultural Agent from 1920 to 1936.

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