Gamble Whale Song"
I hear my mother
I hear my father
I hear my grandparent
what's that? It's the Port Gamble killer whale returning
Duane Pasco, 1990
was like a giant family reunion Saturday night when about 400 Native
Americans from 19 canoe nations from Canada to Oregon converged
on the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribal Center.
had come to witness a historic moment as the tribe "brought out"
its songs and accepted two long-lost canoe paddles.
an enormous feast of salmon, venison and crab, the mood became somber
as the sacred ceremony began.
dressed in traditional regalia of woven cedar vests, feathered hats
and red button shawls and listened as Tribal Elder Oliver Jones
and a large circle of drum-beating singers summoned ancestors in
apologized to the ancestors for not preserving the ancient songs
of the oral-tradition society when potlatches were outlawed.
now they are coming home," he said.
the 1800s, S'Klallam canoe paddlers visiting the northernmost tribes
of British Columbia and Alaska during potlatches sang songs to their
the 1900s, when potlatches were outlawed, the northern tribes hung
on to parts of the songs.
up in Alaska, S'Klallam friend Duane Pasco of North Kitsap remembered
some of them from his childhood and has written a collection of
songs for the S'Klallams, who officially performed them Saturday.
they're grabbing bits and pieces, trying to reconstruct," Pasco
is a revival."
honored "witnesses" sat in special chairs during the ceremony, making
sure the songs were performed in the right manner and remembering
them for future generations. They included Guy Capoeman of the Quinaults,
Connie McCloud of the Puyallups, Lester Green of Neah Bay and Edgar
Charlie of the Ahousaht nation of British Columbia.
songs are written in S'Klallam language and in Chinook jargon, a
universal language once used by Indians, traders and missionaries.
simple, some complex, the songs became the property of a person
or family. They were about trips made by the paddlers, killer whales
(metaphors for the S'Klallam canoes), life and, or course, love.
Tribal Chairman Ron Charles welcomed the crowd, he announced, "Bring
our songs out."
began the evening of singing, drumming and dancing. A sea of red
and black undulated across the tribal center as women dancers led
by Francine Swift performed the traditional paddle dances.
at a time wielded paddles as they rhythmically made their way across
the floor. Men took up song, beating the drums louder and louder
until they suddenly stopped. Prayers in the native language and
in English were said.
one of the most stirring moments of the evening, Puyallup tribe
member Raymond McCloud Sr. and his wheelchair-bound mother, Edith
McCloud, presented the S'Klallams with two very old paddles, the
only ones that old known to the tribe. No one knows for certain
yet how old the small, pointed paddles are. They were found in 1959
in a shed on the reservation by Robert Brown of Tacoma and his father,
Bill, as they were logging. They took the paddles home and forgot
about them for decades until 1991, when Robert Brown rediscovered
contacted the nearby Puyallup tribe, who presented the paddles to
the S'Klallams Saturday night.
members hope to learn much from the original paddles, such as the
material they were made of, their size and dimension. Brown attended
the paddles swathed in rich, red material and tied with cedar boughs
were Ron Charles and Tribal Elder Jake Jones. A tiny bell rang as
the hushed crowd watched. Tribal elders held up the paddles for
all to see, then women dancing to celebratory songs carried the
paddles throughout the crowd.
S'Klallams' renewed song effort began in 1989, when the tribe launched
its 35-foot canoe Klumachun for a paddle to Seattle during the Washington
centennial. Many paddles have take place since then, and according
to paddler Mary Jones, the next, to British Columbia, is slated
for next summer. The need for songs has further grown as the tribal
paddlers received more invitations to sing at other events.
of the 19 canoe nations who visited Saturday received a traditional
in-person invitation from Tribal Elder George Jones, according to
witness Capoeman explained, "When someone comes to you somewhere,
you have to go there and help them any way you can."
guests were given blankets, rare and historic cobalt blue trading
beads, new paddles painted in the traditional red and black of the
Little Boston tribe and S'Klallam baskets filled with fish and jam.
Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe has about 300 enrolled members, according
to Mary Jones. Construction of a longhouse is expected in a few
for the future of the S'Klallam songs, Mary Jones will be teaching
some of them to students at Wolfle Elementary School in Kingston
in November, Native American Awareness Month.
Thursday last week, Jake Jones sat at a stool carving in a shed
near the tribal center as he listened to the S'Klallam songs on
something that's going to make a difference in our community," he