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Suquamish tribe debuts community house

PORT MADISON INDIAN RESERVATION, Wash. – About 400 tribal members and visitors from neighboring tribes, including nearby British Columbia, gathered for the celebration of the completion of “sgwedzadad qe? ?altxw” tribal community house Feb. 28.

As mid-afternoon approached, the rich smell of the ceiling to floor wood interior was temporarily camouflaged by the aroma of salmon and shellfish cooking, which lingered into the performance area as tribal members and visitors shared stories, sang traditional songs and danced.

The Lushootseed name “sgwedzadad qe? ?altxw” (skwehd-zah-dud-culth-altw) translates to “House of Awakened Culture.” A perfect name for the tribe’s 139-year wait for a community house – a single, large structure to hold ceremonies and celebrations and cornerstone to Coast Salish culture.


 Photo by Babette Herrmann

The community house overlooks the ocean and will be a great welcome for the annual Tribal Canoe Journeys this year.

Federal authorities, following the death of Chief Seattle in 1870, burned down the 600-square-foot Old Man House.

Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman, along with others involved with the project, were honored during the afternoon Potlatch. The celebration that began in the morning continued well into evening. “We may not be the biggest canoe family, but we have a lot of people that support us, and this building is not only a testimony to that, but a testimony to the tribe’s commitment to its culture,” he said.

Forsman’s longtime friend Frank Brown traveled with his wife from the Heiltsuk Nation of Bella Bella, British Columbia. He met Forsman in 1989, when he was a young organizer for canoe journeys. To honor his longtime friend, he sang, shared a story about their friendship, and then gifted him a vest. “We want to honor you for the recognition that you have given to Suquamish,” he said. “Our admiration and respect are given to you with this small token.”

Brown also shared some history about the annual Tribal Canoe Journeys. It began when the Heiltsuk Nation challenged all nations to travel to Bella Bella in 1993 to be part of the Qutawas festival. Twenty-eight canoes answered that call, igniting an annual event.

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The completion of the house comes just in time for the annual Tribal Canoe Journeys Aug. 3 – 8. Up to 110 canoes, 12,500 people and 3,500 campers are expected to converge on Suquamish. Tina Jackson, Tribal Journeys coordinator, said she is confident the tribe can handle the large crowd. This is her first year as the official coordinator, but she has paddled and helped coordinate journeys for the past 20 years.

“This one is such a big task that we need one person to work on this full time. We’ll be able to pull this off.”

The Suquamish Foundation broke ground on the 13,169-square-foot House of Awakened Culture in March 2008. Mithun, an architectural firm based in Seattle, handled the design. Drury Construction of Poulsbo erected the long, concave shaped structure and accompanying canoe shed using primarily cedar.

“We got it done on time and under budget,” said Forsman, who is also the president of the foundation, which raised and earmarked funds for the $7 million project.


 Photo by Babette Herrmann The 13,169-square-foot House of Awakened Culture has a 6,200-square-foot performance area featuring bench seating for 300, a lobby, restrooms and a commercial style kitchen.

The 6,200-square-foot performance area features bench seating for 300 and four large double doors that sweep open to face the picturesque Puget Sound and Cascade Mountain range. A staging room, lobby with comfy seats, large restrooms and a full commercial style kitchen make it a perfect venue for a variety of ceremonies, celebrations and memorials.

In order to build the structure, the tribe had to purchase three lots and move one house, which totaled about five acres. Land use on the checkerboard reservation is tricky. In between reservation land are privately owned parcels. By 2018, the tribe will regain control of 36 acres surrounding the structure.

The tribe also replaced the nearby deteriorating Mosquito Fleet Ferry Dock from the 1930s with a new 526-foot dock, and connecting 1,200-square-foot float. This new dock is not only an asset to the upcoming canoe journeys, it also enables canoe outings for elderly and disabled tribal members.

The public was invited to view and participate in a second celebration of the House of Awakened Culture on March 10. The tribe’s annual Renewal Powwow will be held there March 27 – 29.