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Olalla Neighbors Group nearing its goals

SUQUAMISH — Nearly one year after forming the Suquamish Olalla Neighbors Group, members are satisfied with the results of creating more communication between the tribe and its neighbors in Suquamish.

The group held its first annual members’ meeting last week, reviewing recent work with the Bainbridge Island and North Kitsap Interfaith Councils, electing officers and planning for its upcoming potluck.

Olalla Neighbors was organized last year after Port Gamble S’Klallam elder Ted George and Suquamish neighbor Sarah van Gelder met at a hearing for a housing development on Angeline Avenue on the Port Madison Reservation.

“Sarah stood up (at the hearing) and said, ‘It doesn’t have to be us and them — we’re going to be neighbors,’” George recalled.

Following the desecration of Chief Seattle’s grave, the group was established last May to find ways to create a better sense of community between the two communities.

At first, the organization wanted to create numerous events, said Barbara Lawrence, Suquamish Tribal and Olalla member.

“But Ted, Bennie (Armstrong) and I said we were at survivor level,” she said. “We’re just trying to survive.”

The group slowly integrated themselves into the native and non-native communities, including volunteering at Chief Seattle Days and taking action when the tribe’s canoes were damaged in Port Angeles during the annual summer canoe journey.

The most recent project has been creating liaisons between different religious congregations and the Olalla neighbors.

Members representing various faiths included Barbara Wolf and Kathryn Keve of the Quaker community.

“Quakers have a long tradition of community building,” Keve said.

Dick Goff, president and liaison for IFC, said representatives from other faiths, including Seabold Methodist and the Unitarian Universalists on Bainbridge Island, were interested in being liaisons for the Olalla group.

Members also planned their potluck, noting this year’s theme will be honoring local educators. The Suquamish Olalla Event Choir will also perform at the April 26 event, offering spiritual, popular and folk songs.

The group strongly encourages the general public to attend the potluck at the Suquamish Congregational United Church of Christ.

“This is an opportunity to find out who you are,” said George, who is honorary co-chair of the group.

In other meeting news:

• Bennie Armstrong, the Suquamish Tribal Chairman, gave an update on the tribe’s latest projects, including the official agreement for a tidelands swap between Bainbridge Island Land Trust, Department of Natural Resources and the tribe. In the trade, the tribe will receive ownership of nearly 10 acres of tidelands in front of the tribal center and the state will receive 19.5 acres of tidelands on Bainbridge Island.

• The tribe also received word that it may receive ownership of the site of Old Man House Park, which is currently under the jurisdiction of the state’s Parks and Recreation department.

Additionally, Armstrong said he wanted to talk with the state about receiving ownership of other state parks that are connected to Suquamish lands.

• The annual canoe journey will take place again this year and Suquamish will be the second to last stop before the tribes head south to Tulalip as their final destination, Armstrong said, noting it’s an honor to be chosen to host such an event.

“We’ve invited (other tribes) for 2009 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Paddle to Seattle,” Armstrong said.

• The group also held annual elections for officer positions. Van Gelder and George will be the co-chairs, Fred Hoefler will be the vice-chair, Mary Ann Dow will be the secretary and Glynis Burns will be the treasurer.

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