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S’Klallam builds its tribute to the past

LITTLE BOSTON — As the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe honored those who helped make the first portion of the tribe’s House Of Knowledge campus a reality, the message was clear: the project will forever honor their ancestors while securing education and cultural opportunities for their children.

“I feel it’s a really powerful symbol of how the Native American people are regaining and celebrating their culture,” said Laura Ryan, a physician’s assistant in the tribe’s health clinic. Ryan, like other tribal members and employees, has been watching the development of the new campus for the past year and a half.

During a three-hour ceremony in the new longhouse Saturday, tribal officials thanked everyone who participated in the effort — from the elders who created HOK’s native name “Xcntax,” (pronounced “Ha-chi-nought”) to the volunteers who helped with fund-raising for the $5 million campaign.

Many of these people were honored by performances from the S’Klallam Singers, children from the tribe’s Early Childhood Education program, S’Klallam Youth and Teen Dancers and David Boxley’s Tsimshian Git Hoan Dancers.

After years of holding ceremonies in the tribal gymnasium, the 5,700-square-foot longhouse will now be used for such events. The custom-designed longhouse was made with Douglas fir harvested from the Port Gamble Indian Reservation. It also has a large performance area, built-in wooden benches and a much better acoustic sound system than in the gym.

“I think I made more talks in the gymnasium that were never heard because the acoustics were so bad,” joked Tribal Chairman Ron Charles.

As for artistic touches, there is a large hand-carved interior panel suspended from the longhouse ceiling that tells the story of the S’Klallam people and their traditional hunting methods.

Carvers also created designs for two sets of oversized exterior doors, located on the east and west sides of the longhouse, using the traditional Native American Northern-style and Coastal Salish-style designs. Each set includes symbols representing the tribe’s history, such as the its official symbol, the killer whale, and the image of the late and very respected Port Gamble elder Martha John.

Outside, four totem poles surround the longhouse, each telling stories about different factions of the tribe, from how they fish to honoring those who worked at the Port Gamble sawmill across the bay.

“For many years, that was the only way they provided food and a living for their family,” HOK longhouse coordinator Marie Hebert said of the sawmill pole.

General contractor for the project Jim Rochlin said the longhouse not only provides a place for the tribe to hold ceremonies, but it will also provide a unique educational experience for visitors to the reservation.

“It gives a very strong Northwest feeling here,” he said. “You don’t see this anywhere else.”

The other building included in phase one of the HOK campus is the 3,420 -square-foot career and education center, which was not completed Saturday. It will eventually have a computer lab, learning center and staff offices and provide education services for all ages.

The longhouse and the education center are just the first half of the HOK project; the second half includes construction of a new elders center and library, which volunteers are fund-raising for now.

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