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State to transfer Old Man artifacts to tribe

SUQUAMISH — After the Old Man House property was transferred from Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission to the Suquamish Tribe last June, tribal officials soon discovered they were going to be receiving more than just a 1-acre park.

“Much to our surprise, we found a secondary benefit,” said tribal chairman Leonard Forsman.

During the Feb. 13 tribal council meeting, parks commission director Rex Derr and Forsman signed a letter of intent for the state to transfer to the tribe 576 pieces of collected artifacts that were excavated from the park grounds in 1950, 1951, 1960 and 1964. The park was the site of the Suquamish Tribe’s ancestral wintering village and tribal longhouse.

A small sampling of the artifacts was on display during the ceremony last week, including a large axe-like piece made from animal bone and elaborately decorated gaming pieces.

Derr presented Forsman a list of the inventory the parks department currently possesses, as well as a letter of intent to transfer the items to the tribe.

“We’re working feverishly to make it happen,” Derr said.

Pieces in the collection include metal fragments, antlers, clay items and tools made from animal bone. The collection is currently stored at the Burke Museum in Seattle.

Five years ago, parks commission coordinator Cindy Farr took on the task of matching the artifacts with their sources, Derr said. This resulted in the creation of the Suquamish collection.

“It comes from the heart of the community and the staff to do the right thing with these propert(ies) that are rightfully yours,” Derr said.

“(There is) a lot of information from the collection that will help us understand how the Suquamish people lived,” Forsman said.

Already at the park is an exhibit telling the history of the property but the tribe intends to expand the exhibit to include updated information, including the transfer of ownership, Forsman said.

Suquamish Tribal museum director Marilyn Jones said she and Farr have been working hard on preparations for the transfer. Jones hopes to create replicas of some of the items and use them in education kits for local schools to teach students about the history of the tribe and Old Man House Park.

“You’ll be able to use them in ways we couldn’t,” Farr said.

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