Tribe drums for Gordon students

KINGSTON — Looks of astonishment broke out over the sea of students in Gordon Elementary School’s multi-purpose room as the S’Klallam Tribal Dancers moved to the beat of their leader’s 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.

“It’s teaching the kids a little S’Klallam culture through songs, dance and some language,” said Dennis Jones, who has been the director of the S’Klallam Tribe’s 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 S’Klallam 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.

“It’s fun to just sit back and watch because I don’t 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 S’Klallam Tribe is crucial to understanding who their cultural neighbors are.

“It’s important to me that I know about other kinds of people,” she said. “It’s good to learn about other cultures — not just your own.”

“They’re 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 S’Klallam 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.

Murphy’s family just moved to the area and while he knew that there are two native tribes — the Port Madison Suquamish and the S’Klallam — he admitted he didn’t 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 he’s 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 S’Klallam Tribal native dances and songs. He felt it was a natural fit to follow in his father’s 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 S’Klallam 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 he’s taught an aspect of tribal culture.

“They’ll walk up to me in a grocery store and say ‘Hey, I know you!’ and I like that,” he said.

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