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New KJH mural aims to bridge cultural gap

KINGSTON — When he was 16 years old, artist and S’Klallam tribal member Gene Jones created a paddle for his aunt that depicted a killer whale with a man on its back.

Now nearly a man of 60, Jones has re-created that same image at Kingston Junior High School in an a effort to continue spreading the stories and knowledge of his native tribe. A large mural of the whale, painted onto cedar and encased with plexiglass, now vivifies the library’s south wall.

“I hope this strengthens the friendship between our tribe and the school,” Jones said, addressing a crowd of about 40 people who witnessed the mural’s dedication Thursday.

For the artist, the mural is a way to sustain his native culture as well as teach it to others, he said.

“It helps us to share our culture with the non-natives and bridge that cultural gap,” Jones said. “It also helps native kids to identify with their culture.”

Janet Schiersch, Kingston Junior High’s librarian, has wanted to establish a piece of native art at the school since she’s held her position. Before coming to the school, Schiersch was the director of Native American studies in the North Kitsap School District for five years.

“I just thought that being between both (the Suquamish and S’Klallam) reservations, we needed something to reflect that,” Schiersch said.

The mural was made possible by a grant from the Suquamish Clearwater Casino.

The casino, under its “Appendix X” clause, is required to donate a portion of its profits to non-profit organizations. Schiersch said that the library’s mural project was chosen as a recipient of funds this year.

Jones was asked to complete the project, and also enlisted the help of friend and fellow tribal member Glenn Kelly.

“When they got going, it only took them about a week and a half, outside of planning,” Schiersch said.

Kelly, who was in charge of putting up the backborards while handling some of the design work and painting, said he too is proud of the new mural and the important story it brings to the school.

“My kids go here and my youngest one will go here,” Kelly said. “The schools have all different races and it’s important for the kids to be proud of who they are.”

“A lot of our culture has really been lost,” Jones added. “We’re trying to keep it alive — keep it strong.”

The borders around the mural, Jones said, reflect the water and land — one blue trim for the sea and one brown for the land.

“Our people lived with the water and the water supplied what we needed,” he said.

Jones told to those at the dedication the story of the killer whale design he painted for the school. His great-grandfather, he began, was meeting with one of the newly arrived settlers on his tribe’s land. Over the “white man’s whiskey,” Jones recalled, his ancestor reported to the settler that he could call toward him the killer whales in the nearby seas.

With the settler in disbelief, Jones’ grandfather journeyed to the sea where he sang and splashed the water with his hands to call to the orcas. Sure enough, said Jones, the whales came and the biggest of them took his great-grandfather on a ride under the sea. He reported that the whale was also displeased with Jones’ ancestors’ consumption of the whiskey.

“My great-grandfather never drank after that,” Jones recalled.

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