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Suquamish Tribe celebrates 102nd Chief Seattle Days

A day of canoe races was one part of the 102nd Chief Seattle Days.  - Richard D. Oxley / Bainbridge Island Review
A day of canoe races was one part of the 102nd Chief Seattle Days.
— image credit: Richard D. Oxley / Bainbridge Island Review

SUQUAMISH — It was around the year 1810 when nearby mountain Indians were planning raids on the saltwater tribes of the Puget Sound.

Anticipating the attacks, the tribes gathered to form a plan to protect themselves. When the tribal leaders were unable to settle on a viable plan of action, ideas were solicited from the younger generation. A young man, Si’ahl from the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes, stepped up with a cunning idea.

That moment was the beginning of a historic period of transition, and the rise of one of Washington’s most prominent Native leaders: Chief Seattle.

“Chief Seattle has become known as a man of peace, of environmental protection, of spiritual beliefs, and preservation of culture, and he actually started out as a military leader,” Suquamish Chairman Leonard Forsman said to a crowd gathered at the Suquamish Museum. “That’s where he acquired his leadership.”

Forsman’s lecture on the history of Chief Seattle was not on any brochures for the annual celebration of Chief Seattle Days, but his presentation still drew a considerable crowd to the museum on Aug. 17. The crowd continued to grow during his lecture, leaving a few standing in the back of the room, highly intrigued by the history of the man who Washington’s largest city is named after.

Seattle’s plan to protect the saltwater tribes from raids was to find a bend in a river that pillagers would be traveling on. Then, with a bevy of warriors, he laid a large tree across the water and set a trap to ambush the raiders.

“They went up the night before and dropped this tree across the river so that when dawn broke, and there was still fog over the river, (raiding tribes) wouldn’t see it as they came around the bend (in their canoes),” Forsman said.

When the canoes struck the tree, chaos ensued and Seattle, along with a great number of warriors, attacked. The plan was a success and Seattle was given quite a pat on the back; he would soon be appointed chief of the six tribes that took part in the plan.

Forsman went on to talk about how Seattle befriended Doc Maynard, one of the founders of the city. The chief suggested that Maynard establish a trading post in Elliott Bay as it was a good location with access to local Indians. Maynard ultimately suggested a name for the resulting city: Seattle.

It was the great accomplishments and leadership during the pivotal time that the Suquamish people commemorate each year. The celebration is now more than 100 years old.

This year, the Suquamish people began with a dedication of Chief Seattle’s gravesite. The celebration continued with a salmon dinner, a 5K run, softball tournament, golf tournament, and a parade.

This year’s Chief Seattle Days Warrior, Ryan Sigo, and Princess, Shaylene Jefferson, were crowned on Friday night. The two are cousins and walked through the festivities Saturday, thanking people for coming to the celebration.

Native Americans from throughout the region were welcomed, danced and shared songs. Dancers young and old danced at the pow wow, displaying an array of cultural styles, regalia and spirit.

Intense canoe races were held on the water. Five clubs came to Suquamish to take part in the races: Rikkole Cree of Nooksack/Lummi; 55 Lina Lynn of Nooksack; Salmon Arrow of Malahat, B.C.; Flaming Star of Cowichan, Duncan B.C.; and Jimmy Z of Nooksack.

Of local racers, Joshy Bagley, 10, raced in the boys 10 and under single and partnered with fellow Suquamish member Matthew Wion, 10, for the 10 and under double. Wion also raced in the boys 10 and under single.

Nica Chiquiti, 10, placed second in the girls 10 and under and in the girls double 10 and under. Chiquiti placed third in the girls double 11-13.

At age 5, Bobby Ray showed promising skills, ultimately beating out one of seven boats in the boys 10 and under singles.

Barb Santos got in the water for her first race in 20 years with the Tana Stobs Canoe Family, comprised of people from the Suquamish and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes.

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