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Culture Day Brings the Past Forward at Chief Leschi Schools

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PUYALLUP, Wash. – Being able to learn about the past is important; being able to feel it and appreciate it deep within is imperative. Chief Leschi School’s recent Culture Day brought the past to the present for students.

Signs of Native culture abound at the school, where story poles, circles, drumming, pow wows and a classroom devoted to culture activities are all available to students and staff.

Chief Leschi Assistant Principal Harvey Whitford, Blackfeet, said he wants students to gain an even greater understanding of their heritage.

“I shared with them the importance of carrying on our Native cultures so our traditions are safe for our great-grandchildren and beyond,” he said. “If our ancestors and cultural leaders had not been the caretakers of our culture, it would be gone forever. Our young people must now carry on those traditions.”

Elementary students through high schoolers had the opportunity to hear stories from Native storyteller and elder, Elaine Grinnell. Sitting in the longhouse, surrounded by the scent of cedar, she captivated her young audience with tales of what happened long ago.

“I’ve been telling stories for 35 years,” said Grinnell, Jamestown S’Kallum/Lummi. “All the stories are educational and have a valuable moral or lesson at the end.”

The lesson of the drum is important to culture instructor Ken Gopher.

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“I want the kids to learn how and why to respect the drum and give thanks to it,” said Gopher, who grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation. “The drum is made from steer hide and the animal gave its life so they can learn the ways of the drum. It’s not about how hard the drum is hit. It’s about keeping on time with the beat and harmonizing with each other to sound as one.”

Eleven-year-old Camille Gordon, Puyallup, is part of the Big Drum group at the school. She’s been attending Chief Leschi since preschool and always enjoys Culture Day.

“I like learning new things about different cultures, like where they live, how they fish and what they eat,” said Camille.

Wood carving is a skill and an honor to Jeremy Miller. Working on a yellow cedar log and carving a Squirrel dancer, Miller talked with students about the significance of carving.

“It’s to enhance the positive things that are going on in our lives,” said Miller, Puyallup, a 1991 Chief Leschi graduate. “I tell the kids to hold on to their culture. They need connections to their ancestors and their ways in order to share it with others.”

Sixth-grader Joe Perry would like to carve a small canoe to give to his grandmother.

“It means a lot to me to get to learn about my heritage,” he said. “I’m proud to be Tulalip. There’s so much I can learn.”