Klahowya celebrates Native culture

Members of the Haida Heritage Foundation prepare for a traditional song and dance performance during Native American Culture night at Klahowya Secondary School. - Seraine Page
Members of the Haida Heritage Foundation prepare for a traditional song and dance performance during Native American Culture night at Klahowya Secondary School.
— image credit: Seraine Page

War chants, love songs and drumming filled the auditorium of Klahowya Secondary School during the CK School District’s annual Native American Culture night. The event, in its sixth year, brought out around 100 guests from various tribes and the community last Thursday.

Paige Richards, a member of the Chehalis Tribe, joins in on the celebration every year. Richards is a graduate of Klahowya and said she is proud to see the community gather together to learn about the Native American culture.

“I think it is important for every person to know where they come from,” she said. “We’re very proud of our culture, and it’s okay to celebrate who you are.”

Her role for the evening was manning the dessert table, which featured authentic native desserts provided by Fairview Jr. High food science classes for guests to get a taste of the culture as well.

Prior to the performances of various Native American groups, guests meandered in the lobby where several booths offered artifacts and native artwork. Guests could pick up handwoven baskets, hand painted wooden masks and touch furs other cultural items. Several students’ Native American artwork was hung on the wall and displayed on tables for visitors to enjoy.

Information on the Central Kitsap School District Native American Education Program was also available, which provides services to Native American students within the district.

Every year since its inception, the event has grown larger and larger, said Cynthia Connell, Indian education instructor for CKSD.

“It’s wonderful because when we first started doing it, we had a small turnout,” she said. “After a while, people become familiar with it…every community is made up of all sorts of bits and pieces.”

Guests were ushered into the auditorium for several performances. A prayer was offered by a Cherokee tribe member, and led into a traditional song and dance routine from the Haida Heritage Foundation. The group normally performs with 25 members, but only several were available for the evening. The tribe, from southeast Alaska, hail from the town of Hydaburg on Prince of Wales Island, and members cross three generations.

The group performed songs that had been translated by 100-year-old uncles and included rival songs and welcome songs. For a portion of their performance, the Haida members also encouraged audience members to get on stage and dance along with the tribe members.

Author Keith Egawa, of Lummi and S’Klallam Indian ancestry, shared bits of his culture through a reading of a children’s book he recently published. The lights of the auditorium were dimmed as he read excerpts from “Tani’s Search for the Heart”, influenced by much of his Lummi and S’Klallam ancestry. He and his sister worked on the book together, he said. His sister’s illustrations were flashed on the overhead projector as he read through various scenes of the book.

To round out the evening, the Canoe Family Singers took to the stage. Some of the tribe’s royalty wore leather headdresses or sashes to declare their claim to royalty—which range from young children to teens who must prove to the tribe prior to taking the position that they will reflect the tribe in a good manner. The group is a Port Gamble S’Klallam family known for its singing and drumming.

The group sang in their native language about rivals and finished with a love song where they held bent arms to the sky, a symbol that they wished their loved ones were near.

Richards said she always enjoys watching the Port Gamble group perform together each year.

“They’re a great group of performers,” she said.

Sonia Barry, CKSD native liason, is of Aleut descent, said she loved watching the community come together for the event. Barry was responsible for the coordination and inviting all the guests, and said she enjoyed putting it together for her first time. A total of five schools from the CK district participated, she said.

“It’s important to celebrate our traditions. We still exist,” she said. “It is just fun to celebrate and the willingness of the native community to share was great.”


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