Old Man finally comes home

SUQUAMISH — As a light fog rolled into Old Man House Park and Port Madison Bay Thursday morning, the low murmur of a canoe song could be heard coming from the water.

Slowly, the silhouettes of three Suquamish canoes came into view, each passing in front of the park several times before being brought ashore by the Suquamish Canoe Family.

While this journey to the park was simple and short, it carried a very significant meaning for the members of the Suquamish Tribe. They were coming to reclaim ownership of something they had lost long ago — the site of their ancient wintering village, D’Suq’Wub and Chief Seattle’s home, which is now the 1-acre Old Man House Park.

“It’s like we are retrieving our culture today,” said tribal council secretary Linda Holt.

Several hundred people — non-natives, members from other tribes and state officials — joined the tribe at the waterfront site to witness the official transferring of the park deed from the Washington State Parks and Recreation to the Suquamish Tribe June 30. The state decided last August to transfer ownership of the property to the tribe. It took several years to come to this conclusion, after many public meetings with the community, at times revealing animosity between neighbors on whether the tribe would hold true to its word to keep the park open to the public and clean. The tribe responded with a management plan for the park, based on input from the public meetings and tribal officials emphasized it would remain open to everyone.

Skokomish tribal councilman Fred Miller, Port Gamble S’Klallam elder Ted George, state representative and Tulalip tribal member John McCoy and Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission chairman Billy Frank were called upon to officially witness the event, as part of traditional protocol. Suquamish elders Ed Midkiff and Delores Mills, plus Kitsap residents Jim Turner, Virginia Cowling and Betsy Lawrence, were chosen as honorary witnesses.

Delbert Miller, the spiritual leader for the Skokomish Tribe, led the park restoration ceremony Thursday morning, which included a blessing of ground. Miller likened the blessing ceremony to putting a candle in the window while waiting for someone to come home.

“Cleanse the land and all the spirits,” he said. “They know where to come home to.”

Parks and Recreation Commission Chair Mickey Fearn said during the decision process, the word “sacred” was often thrown around but he felt its meaning was lost in the process. He explained how he researched it to see if he could find the true definition of the word again.

“I came here to see if I could feel it and I felt it,” he said, adding that’s when he knew there was no compromise on the future of the parcel — the park had to go back to its original owner.

“I’d like to say to you, with all the heart I’ve got, welcome home,” he said.

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