Suquamish celebrate tradition, culture with opening of Old Man House

SUQUAMISH — Cultural preservation is a central mission of the Suquamish Tribe.

It’s akin to a shepherd and his staff or a traveler and her map.

On Tuesday eager tribal members invited the public to celebrate a cornerstone and historical cultural victory: The completion and opening of the new Old Man House.

“It’s been a long, long time since we’ve had a home to call our own,” said Marilyn Wandery during her opening prayer blessing. “It’s the dreams of our ancestors, our people to have our own place to be who we were meant to be.”

The plight of the original Old Man House and the fight for a new one spans more than 200 years.

In 1870 the original Old Man House, built around 1790 by Chief Kitsap and Chief Seattle’s father, Schweabe, was destroyed by the U.S. Indian Agent to assimilate the tribe through separation from culture and community.

After its destruction, tribal members lived in a cluster of cabins known as the “village” around where the Old Man House once stood.

In 1886 the Port Madison Reservation was given to the tribe.

In 2004 the Tribal Council granted approval to explore the possible construction of a new building to host traditional events.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the Community House took place and on March 10, the public was invited to the opening ceremonies.

The new Community House is known as a long house and will be used as a gathering place for the tribe — a place to foster traditional values and culture and to instill in Suquamish youth the importance of belonging to their people.

“It is somewhere to gather and grow and keep our cultural resurgence going,” Tribal Chairman Leonard Foresman said during the opening ceremonies.

On Tuesday the multi-thousand square foot-building still smelled of freshly cut timber.

Its architecture is immaculate with grand ceilings some 40-feet high, held up by thick beams. Four sets of near 18-foot doors open to display sweeping views of the Puget Sound and the Seattle skyline.

Six towering columns throughout the expanse of the auditorium are carved in figures or pictures depicting Suquamish values and teachings.

As the ceremonies began, a conch was sounded in all four directions, spreading its sonorous tune around the room.

Traditional song and drums followed.

“This is a testament of the importance of a traditional gathering spot for the Suquamish people,” Foresman said.