A cultural renaissance

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Suquamish Tribe Community House to open next year

SUQUAMISH, Wash. - As the Suquamish Tribe;s self-reliance continues to grow in the form of gaming and multiple enterprises, so does a cultural renaissance.

In March, the Suquamish Foundation broke ground on a new community house, just footsteps from the picturesque Puget Sound. The new facility will honor the former home of Suquamish Chief Seattle and Chief Kitsap. Its name, Community or Inviting House, is temporary until a name reflective of the tribe's rich culture is found.

Foundation president and tribal chair Leonard Forsman said the former 600-square-foot longhouse, called the Old Man House, was burned down by the federal authorities following the death of Chief Seattle in 1870.

''After the house was burned, people still gathered in tents,'' he said.

The land where the house once stood is known today as Old Man House Park.

The Suquamish Foundation was formed to restore and create places of cultural and historical significance to the tribe as a part of the ''Building for Cultural Resurgence'' capital campaign. ''This is one of the biggest projects for our capital campaign,'' Forsman said.

In June 2009, the tribe will attract thousands of visitors to the new 15,000-square-foot facility when the tribe hosts the annual Canoe Journey. So far, about 100 canoes are expected to arrive for the celebration.

The tribe also plans to use the Community House for an array of ceremonial, cultural and community events.

''People are already starting to plan some of the pow wows,'' said foundation CEO Michael Felts.

Details of the interior include a 6,000-square-foot auditorium with perimeter bench seating for 600 guests and, if tables are set up, about 300 more guests. The wooden floor area is specifically created for the traditional song, dance and storytelling of Coast Salish people. And no Native celebration would be complete without food, so a commercial-style kitchen is in the works.

''I think it's going to attract a lot of celebrations,'' Forsman said.

Four large doors will open up to a spacious grassy area where ceremonies could be held.

For Coast Salish tribes, a single, large structure to hold ceremonies and celebrations is paramount to the culture. The Community House will be built with cedar planks and topped with a shed roof. House posts are currently being carved into two-dimensional totem poles by Native artisans to reflect the Suquamish culture.

Once the facility is completed, there are plans to hold educational classes for tribal members who want to learn how to speak the Lushootseed language, which Felts said was near extinction on the reservation until several years ago. But before the language could die, it was revived thanks to tribal members who took initiative.

Additionally, the facility plans to hold classes on the art of carving wooden paddles and totems, creating traditional regalia, weaving, and more.

Felts estimates the project will cost close to $8 million when completed. The foundation has goals to raise more than $20 million for a variety of projects under the cultural resurgence plan. The tribe has chipped in $10 million and is seeking private donations to cover the other half.

The Community House project has received a direct appropriation of $1 million from the state, a $1.1 million private donation and a $500,000 grant.

Land use on the reservation is tricky, as their reservation looks similar to a checkerboard on a map. In between reservation land are privately owned parcels. In order to build the community house, the tribe had to purchase three lots and move one house. Felts said half of the building is sitting on land designated for tribal use. With the landscaping and facility combined, the total project will take up about five acres.

By 2018, the tribe will regain control of 36 acres surrounding the Community House.

Other capital campaign projects include the groundbreaking of a 9,000-square-foot museum and arts center in May 2009. The construction of a dock near the Community House should begin by July and take only a few months to build.

Other projects, with groundbreaking dates pending, include a monument at Chief Seattle's grave, the Suquamish Heritage Trail, and a new welcome totem pole near the downtown waterfront.

The foundation has already met two goals with the opening of the 12,000-square-foot Marion Forsman-Boushie Suquamish Early Learning Center and a community baseball field. Both projects were completed in September.

For more information, visit www.suquamishfoundation.com/capital.