Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 5, 2001 - Issue 35



'Speaker's Staff' given back to Quinaults


 By Jenny Lynn Zappala, Reporter - Daily World


drawing of an early Quinault village

Taholah, WA - After decades of separation, a sacred "speaker's staff" has been reunited with the Quinault Indian Nation.

Singing a traditional chant for protection and good fortune, tribal members honored the staff during the opening ceremonies of the tribe's annual General Council meeting March 31.

"The feeling in the air" when the staff was carried down the walkway and presented to Pearl Capoeman-Baller, the tribe's president, "was pretty amazing," said Guy Capoeman. He is a tribal councilman and chairman of the Quinault Nation's repatriation committee.

The three - foot long carved wooden staff is "extremely old and fragile," but in good condition, he said. Some of the black, red and blue paint is still visible on the staff.

A man's face with many "potlatch hats" on his head is carved into the staff, which is made of cedar and some other unidentified wood. "Potlatch hats" or rings were cedar headbands worn to indicate how many potlatches - gift-giving ceremonies - that person had hosted, Capoeman explained. The staff was the symbol of a speaker at tribal gatherings.

"It had obviously belonged to somebody of importance - someone with high ranking."

The staff is the first artifact to be returned to the Quinaults through the Native American Graves Protection & Repatriation Act of 1990, which allows tribes to protect and recover sacred objects and human remains.

"It was an exciting first step for the nation," Pearl Capoeman-Baller said of the ceremony and recovery of the artifact.

The Quinaults' repatriation committee and Leilani Chubby, the nation's cultural coordinator, intend to request hundreds of similar items from museums across the world.

"We want to hit the areas within the state first," Guy Capoeman said. "Most of the big collections are within the state anyway."

The Ilwaco Heritage Museum released the speaker's staff on March 28, just in time for the tribe's annual meeting. "They really pushed this through for us," said Councilman Capoeman. "We thank them very much."

The staff is one of nine items scheduled to be returned to the Indian Nation this year. The other items - a drum, an eagle-feather headdress, a "power doll," a sea otter sash, a vial of face paint, a cedar-bark head ring and two rattles - are at the Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture in Seattle.

"We got a call from the Burke last week and there are some traces of arsenic on those objects. We're going to go up and clean them before we bring them home," in May, Capoeman said.

The speaker's staff is being stored at the Quinault Nation's archive in Taholah until the committee determines a protocol for viewing or using it, Capoeman said. "It's probably not going to be used because it is so old, but we will carve a replica."

Quinalt Indian Nation




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