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Ancestors helping Suquamish woman recapture her culture

SUQUAMISH — Lisa Abbott said when she first discovered she was partially of Suquamish heritage, she didn’t want to move to this side of the Puget Sound. Having grown up as the only Native American in an all-Caucasian family in Seattle, her desire to rediscover her history was tepid at best.

She, like so many others, had been adopted at birth and raised away from the tribe’s cultural traditions.

But that all changed as her life events took an unforeseen turn, and she found herself smack in the middle of Suquamish and its heritage. Abbott said she took great interest in her family tree, and has gained some amazing information about herself and her roots.

She is one of the descendants of both Chief Kitsap and Chief Seattle on her mother’s side.

“As I discovered more about my family, I found a connection to Chief Kitsap and Chief Sealth,” Abbott said. “It’s pretty lengthy, I’m actually descendant from three chiefs... It’s been interesting investigating and looking at my family tree. I wouldn’t have seen it right away, you really have to look back to find the connections.”

She said she has ties to the Yakima, Mukilteo, Skokomish, Duwamish, Puyallup and Suquamish tribes — the last of which was she is a registered member of.

Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman said tribal members rediscovering their genealogy is a major way to keep the tribe’s culture poignant and helps with efforts to rebuild the area’s heritage. Many other residents, both in the North End and throughout the Puget Sound, are working to rediscover their roots.

“A lot of people work on genealogy, it’s a part of who they are,” he said. “It’s such an important part of our culture, and a part of our past.”

Abbott and her brother, Tony Snortland, were both present at the Kitsap County Fair Aug. 23 as descendants from Chief Kitsap. The fair was celebrating its 100-year anniversary, and the Suquamish Tribe also provided singing and dancing from the Suquamish Canoe Families Singers. Abbott said the fair was an important event, because it solidified her place in the tribe.

“The day they asked me to come out to the fair was the first confirmation from the tribal leader of my ancestors,” she said. “I found it in a book in the library that confirmed it, but it was nice to have the tribe acknowledge it.”

She said she has been passing some of the information to her brother, who is less interested in their past. One of the surprises of moving back to Suquamish two years ago was discovering she had three other siblings. Her brother had been in transitional housing just a few weeks before Abbott settled in, and she found him purely by accident. She said she knew of another sister for many years as well. In finding her brother, she discovered she had a third sibling, who had died.

“It’s a challenge for those folks that, due to circumstances beyond their control, were taken out of the tribal experiences,” Forsman said. “Of course we value kinship, and knowing who our ancestors are is an important part of the tribe.”

“It’s absolutely mind bending, I’ve always been an avid reader,” Abbott said of how her search began. “It’s mind boggling, but it’s fun. I’ve always kind of wondered where we came from. Now I’m finding out.”

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