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Canoe family heads east

SUQUAMISH — Members of the Suquamish Canoe Family Singers and Dancers don’t just see their trip to Washington D.C. next week as an opportunity to perform, but as an extension of the group’s annual summer canoe journey.

The group was invited to sing and dance during the opening ceremonies of a new Northwest exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C., which will open Feb. 3. The invitation came after the NMAI contacted Suquamish Tribal Museum director Marilyn Jones last year about borrowing items from the Suquamish museum for the exhibit. Tribal representatives were invited to attend the opening ceremonies and NMAI officials suggested they bring their song and dance group.

The group has been practicing since November, learning both old and new songs, including an old Suquamish song that was used by the Skokomish Tribe for a long time but was given back to the Port Madison Tribe recently.

“We do have one really cool song that the Skoks challenged us to do better with,” said singer Bennie Armstrong. “It’s an old song getting a new life.”

The group has enough songs to fill an entire hour, if asked, and expects to perform several times throughout the week. While the primary reason for attending is to perform at the opening ceremonies, the group also plans to perform for the Northwest congressional delegation, teach youth in D.C. area schools about Salish coastal life and visit national monuments.

Most of the group has not been to D.C., so it’s an exciting time for the group, especially the youth.

“It’s inspired a lot of the youth to get out and learn to dance,” said singer Barb Santos. “There are a lot of girls learning to dance with us. It’s bringing us all together, (making the group) more powerful.”

There are a few drummers who had never picked up the instrument before who just started as well, Armstrong added.

During a recent practice, the deep sounds of pounding on the handheld drums and various pitches of song were emanating from one of the buildings at the Suquamish education complex off Totten Road.

“This is my life,” said 18-year-old dancer Cheayvone Lawrence, who, with 12-year-old Calina Lawrence, were helping the young girls dance in sync with the drummers music.

“Some of the girls just started dancing two weeks ago and they are looking like they’ve been doing it for a year,” Lawrence said. The girls’ body language throughout the songs include moves that represent killer whales, paddling through water, sailing through the air like an eagle and thanking the crowd.

The group that will be en route to D.C. Monday morning consists of about 60 people, including children, tribal staff and tribal council members. Approximately 30 elders also are going to support the group’s efforts. Port Madison Enterprises, the Suquamish Tribal Council and the federally-funded Tribal Youth Program have provided the financial support for the trip.

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