Tribe drums for Gordon students
June 10, 2008 · Updated 7:26 PM
KINGSTON Looks of astonishment broke out over the sea of students in Gordon Elementary Schools multi-purpose room as the SKlallam Tribal Dancers moved to the beat of their leaders drum.
The dancers swayed back and forth, moving about the audience one full of children the same age as their entertainers as the students listened and watched them attentively.
For many at Gordon, it was their first experience witnessing a neighboring culture that has existed in North Kitsap for centuries.
Its teaching the kids a little SKlallam culture through songs, dance and some language, said Dennis Jones, who has been the director of the SKlallam Tribes program since it began eight years ago.
The purpose of the dancers visit was not only to demonstrate song and dance, but to serve as a cultural bridge between non-native and native students.
We have Native American students that take pride in learning about their own culture, said Terry Cowen, who is on the Gordon Elementary School multi-cultural committee. And (non-tribal) students can be exposed to this as a valuable lesson about the SKlallam people.
This was especially so as, at one point during the assembly, Gordon students were invited to participate in a native processional dance. When Jones asked for volunteers, most hands went up frenetically.
Some did, however, elect not to volunteer for the dance but not for lack of enjoyment.
Its fun to just sit back and watch because I dont get to see dancing like that very much, said third grader Annie Roberts.
Fifth grader Juliana Matt said learning a few basic dances and words of the SKlallam Tribe is crucial to understanding who their cultural neighbors are.
Its important to me that I know about other kinds of people, she said. Its good to learn about other cultures not just your own.
Theyre very eager to learn about different cultures and we can help expose them to that, Cowen added.
Many students remarked that they liked the dress of the SKlallam dancers and also participating with them in songs. But some said they felt an importance in getting to know the traditions of one of their local tribes.
I learned a whole bunch of new stuff about the tribes today, said fifth grader J.T. Murphy.
Murphys family just moved to the area and while he knew that there are two native tribes the Port Madison Suquamish and the SKlallam he admitted he didnt know much about them.
It was cool to learn about it, J.T. said.
Aside from the children dancers, Jones has also started a teenage dance group to go with one hes already established. He said he gets much help from his wife, Kay.
Jones recalled when his father, Jake, would go to local schools in the Puget Sound area teaching of the SKlallam Tribal native dances and songs. He felt it was a natural fit to follow in his fathers footsteps.
I just thought it would be cool to do what my dad did, Jones explained. To teach a little bit about the culture, tell kids at least what the difference between a powwow and a potlatch is.
He now serves as the liaison between the SKlallam Tribe and Wolfle Elementary School. Jones said it has given him more time to spend with his own children and added he loves the feeling of seeing someone in the community whom hes taught an aspect of tribal culture.
Theyll walk up to me in a grocery store and say Hey, I know you! and I like that, he said.