Carving a tribute for S’Klallam elder

LITTLE BOSTON — Port Gamble S’Klallam carver Gene Jones calls his late “Aunt” Martha John an “Indian encyclopedia,” as he learned much about his ancestry from her when he was growing up.

“She helped me a lot with the language, dances and legends,” Jones said.

So it was only appropriate for him, along with two other S’Klallam carvers, Bill Jones and Ben Ives, to carve a totem pole in her honor and place it in the House of Knowledge’s career and education center.

“With Martha John and all of the elders, education is real important to our people, so we thought it would be appropriate there,” Gene Jones said.

The 16-foot-tall, 650-pound red cedar pole was erected in the facility’s main lobby Wednesday morning during a ceremony that was followed by a luncheon and a performance by the S’Klallam Youth Dancers.

The pole barely fit in the allotted space though, Jones said with a chuckle. Nearly a dozen people were needed to move the pole through the center’s doors and erect it, nearly skimming the ceilings rafters.

The totem pole represents the spirit of Martha John, Jones said. An owl, which was her guardian spirit, perches at its top, boasting a wing span of 9 feet. Below the owl is a full moon situated between two quarter-moons. At the bottom of the pole is a sculpture of Martha John, flanked by her two dogs, with her right arm raised in front of her chest and her cane in her left hand.

The pose represents times when she would sing powerful songs, pound her cane at the same time. An owl would typically come and rest on her erect right arm as she sang, Jones said.

Those types of events gave Jones goose bumps and recalling it today has the same effect, he added.

When Martha John was alive, she’d share the history of the tribe, often talking about how she remembered when the S’Klallam people had as many as 17 villages and 13 longhouses, Jones said, and also how she dreamed of having a longhouse once again for the S’Klallam people. Today, as part of the House of Knowledge complex, a 5,700-square-foot longhouse sits next to the career and education center. It is first longhouse in more than a century for the tribe.

“If it weren’t for her and her dream, we wouldn’t have the longhouse,” Jones said.

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