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Story pole tells how Seattle’s first settlers were welcomed

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SEATTLE (AP) – For more than 60 years, a Native totem pole stood in West Seattle, just south of Duwamish Head. Nearby is Alki Beach, where Seattle’s original white settlers were welcomed by the Duwamish people in 1851.

But the pole had nothing to do with the local tribes.

The original, believed to have been carved by British Columbia’s Bella Coola Indians, was donated to the city in 1939 by the late J.E. “Daddy” Standley, owner of the Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe on Seattle’s downtown waterfront. A chain saw replica, made by two white Boeing engineers, replaced it in 1966.

While freestanding totem poles were common in coastal villages to the north, story poles – often used as support posts in longhouses – were associated with Puget Sound-area tribes, said Tom Speer, a member of the Duwamish Tribal Council. Poles in the north were more likely to depict a myth, while story poles more often focused on a family history.

The new story pole, carved by Duwamish artist Michael Halady, depicts the tribe welcoming the Denny party, the first white settlers, and is topped with a thunderbird honoring the Duwamish Chief Seattle or Sealth, as his name is sometimes spelled.

The story pole, which was dedicated Aug. 18, is the first in memory carved by a member of the Duwamish tribe and put up on the tribe’s former land – roughly speaking, the city of Seattle. Though the city bears the name of the Duwamish chief, tribal Chairman Cecile Hansen said few traces of the tribe remain.

For a people who have long felt forgotten and ignored on their own land, the $72,000 the city spent for the pole is not insignificant, she said. And now the Duwamish have a pole to mark their legacy.

The pole, erected in July, was fashioned from a cedar tree that was made available by the state Department of Natural Resources after someone cut it down illegally. Halady worried about the wood cracking as he carved into it.

“We’re not using clams’ shells and beaver teeth anymore,” said Halady, who actually used a traditional crook knife.

Although Halady is a fifth-generation descendant of Chief Seattle, he wasn’t raised with an awareness of his heritage, said his part-Duwamish mother, Mary Lou Slaughter.

“I never felt much of a connection with my culture because I’d been spit on as a kid,” she said. “I’d tell my mom I wished I were Swedish like my dad. My mom would say, ‘You didn’t get your brown eyes from being Swedish.’ I’d say, ‘I wish I had blue eyes.’ She’d say, ‘Just be thankful that you can see.’”

Halady worked in construction before meeting David Boxley, a totem pole sculptor from Alaska. Then, he said, “I got the woodcarving bug.”

From Boxley, he learned the art of northern tribes. But there was little information available about Puget Sound-area tribes.

For the story pole, Halady drew on the few symbols of indigenous Puget Sound-area art he found on the longhouse posts and spindle wheels.

“I’m trying to restore Duwamish art,” he said.

At the bottom of the story pole is the image of a spirit guardian with hands raised that symbolizes the welcome offered to white settlers. It was taken from a post from a Duwamish longhouse.

Above that is a depiction of the schooner Exact, which carried Arthur Denny and his party to Alki in 1851. Above that are the faces of a child, a woman and a man, representing the Duwamish people then the face of Chief Seattle, Halady said.

At the top of the pole, Halady carved a face and outstretched wings – a thunderbird. The image was inspired by a description of Chief Seattle in the 1954 autobiography of Suquamish elder Amelia Sneatlum, he said.