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City of Seattle, governor pay tribute to Chief Sealth

SUQUAMISH — For Joan Bittinger of Poulsbo, the pilgrimage to Chief Sealth’s grave site was part art lesson and history lesson. With four children and husband in tow, she was among hundreds who gathered for the wreath laying ceremony at the cemetery held Friday.

“I just wanted to find out more about the chief,” she said as she waited in downtown Suquamish for the arrival of tribal, Seattle, state and county officials. She was doing research for her latest painting depicting the white, black and Native American cultures. Bittinger used the occasion as a history lesson for her 11-year old son, who is home-schooled.

“I want to know more about the culture, she said, adding that she would like to see her children learn about other cultures, ”That’s how we grow.”

That intention perhaps sums up the message of the mid-morning ceremony hosted by the Suquamish Tribe and the City of Seattle to kick off the city’s 150th anniversary. It is also the message that Gov. Gary Locke said people should take from the day’s events.

“We need to celebrate our origins and cultural diversity,” he said following the ceremony.

Locke said the spirit of Chief Sealth “resonates in our hearts.”

“The dead are not all powerless,” Locke said quoting the great chief.

He went on to say that the spirit of Chief Sealth “lives and breathes in the tribe’s members and the young people here today.”

This was the governor’s first visit to Chief Sealth’s grave.

Paul Schell, Mayor of Seattle also addressed the crowd saying, “As long as we remember who was here first and what sustained them for thousands of years — we can survive.”

He went on to say the city is again committing itself to show reverence to the city’s namesake and his culture.

“We have much to learn from each other,” Schell said.

“There is power in unity,” he continued.

Wreaths from the state, City of Seattle, Suquamish Tribal Elders and Kitsap County were presented to the grave. The elders’ wreath was handmade and placed on the monument.

The tribe then presented gifts to their visitors.

Members of the Suquamish Tribe touted the day as a big one for the waterfront community. Members of the Tribal Council, Miss Chief Seattle Days 2001 and the elders helped in welcoming the group of dignitaries to the other side of the water.

The group of VIPs traveled by boat to the Kiana Lodge Dock and took buses to downtown Suquamish. They then formed a procession, led by the Suquamish police colorguard, that went up the hill to the cemetery. Lunch followed at the Tribal Center.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Locke said.

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