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A 100-year-old dream comes true

LITTLE BOSTON — A major step was taken toward preserving the past and capturing the future for a small nation of 1,300 people as the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe held a groundbreaking ceremony April 19 for its new House of Knowledge complex.

The House of Knowledge is a nearly $5 million project, consisting of a four-building campus that includes an elders center, an expanded Little Boston Library, career and education centers and, for the first time in 100 years, a traditional longhouse for ceremonial and community activities.

Wednesday morning’s event was more than just breaking ground though, as tribal leaders reiterated to the audience of nearly 100 people, which included children from the daycare center to state and county dignitaries. It detailed the importance of preserving the tribe’s culture.

“I think this project is going to be very important for our relationship with the county,” Tribal Chairman Ron Charles told the crowd. “The tribe (has been) meeting with new neighbors and we got some really good responses from them. I think it’s a way we can develop a better relationship with the neighbors around us.”

Gene Jones, a master carver with the tribe, led the blessing of the ground before the shoveling of dirt.

“This means a lot for our people,” he said. “It’s a great day for the S’Klallam Nation to break ground. We had 14 long houses, 17 villages among our people. We controlled the western half of Kitsap Peninsula and Olympic Peninsula all the way to Neah Bay.”

But even after “the white man” walked on to S’Klallam lands, “we’re still here trying to keep our culture, our heritage still alive,” Jones said.

He noted his Aunt Martha — the late Martha John — was one of the only cultural bearers of the tribe in recent generations and it was her dream to see a

longhouse become a reality for their people.

“One big, giant step for our people has been to get this big house built,” Jones said. “It will be the focal point of the S’Klallam people and we’ll be able to share it with our neighbors.”

During the morning ceremony, David Boxley and his dancers, his son Zach Boxley and friend Mike Dangeli, performed and introduced a new mask David has been working on.

“It’s an honor to show this mask for the first time. It is going to be danced a lot in the future,” he said. “I wanted to fly it over this occasion to give it some honor.”

The mask consisted of an eagle’s head with a large beak that was split open down the middle. While Boxley danced, he pulled on the strings connected to the mask to open the large beak and reveal a smaller face mask inside.

He explained that the story behind the mask was about an eagle that was rescued by a young chief. When the chief’s people were starving, the eagle brought food to the people, from small fish to large whales, as a way to thank the man for saving its life.

The young S’Klallam Dancers finished up the nearly two-hour ceremony by performing their friendship song, in which the singers, who range in age from nearly two to 13, invited members of the audience to perform the easy and traditional dance with them.

“That’s the kids, that’s what its all about,” Charles said after the performance.

Construction of the longhouse and education center is expected to begin this summer. Fund-raising is still being completed for the library and elders center, which are expected to be constructed in 2004.

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