Culture day celebrates local tribes

Jan Flagg of the Samish tribe demonstrates hat weaving to 1-year-old Aylee MacCabe and her dad Daniel, of Oak Harbor. - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
Jan Flagg of the Samish tribe demonstrates hat weaving to 1-year-old Aylee MacCabe and her dad Daniel, of Oak Harbor.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

The day was a chance to look back at the traditions of Northwest tribes, but to also see them in a modern way.

“People often think of Native Americans in historical terms and not in the contemporary,” Leslie Eastwood, general manager of the Samish tribe said. “We want to show that our culture is still surviving.”

Last Saturday, the Samish and Swinomish Tribes partnered for Native American Culture Day at Bowman Bay in Deception Pass State Park. About 200 people attended the four-hour long event.

The tribes presented ceremonial dances, Native canoe rides, storytelling, art and a salmon barbecue.

By the picnic area, Samish tribe member Jan Flagg weaved cedar hats, traditionally used for work and ceremonial purposes. She explained to visitors that the bark must emit a gas for a year before it can be used for the craft.

“My grandma was gone when I was 6 and so many things went with her. She spoke the language and made baskets,” Flagg said. “If I have it my way, my granddaughters will learn it too.”

At the boat launch, the Samish tribe offered free canoe rides to the public. Each year, hundreds of families enter an intertribal canoe journey along the Washington and Canadian coast. They travel for eight to 12 hours per day for over 250 miles.

“In 20 minutes, people can get a sense of what it takes to do the journey,” Eastwood said.

Dawn Caveness of Oak Harbor and her four boys, Aaron, Bret, Dane and Gabe, were paddling that afternoon.

“The boys think it’s awesome,” she said of the cultural experience. “We had some salmon and fry bread. They just gobbled it up.”

Many of the crafts on sale, such as drums, hats and paddles, were made in family-oriented settings, Rosie James of the Samish tribe said. Part of Culture Day was to pass knowledge to younger generations, some of which can’t be learned in books.

At about 2 p.m., James began drumming to draw crowds to a storytelling session.

“When I’m on the beach digging clams, I’m in my element. You see my family over there?” she said, motioning to a group of ladies weaving the cedar bark hats. “They’re in their element.”

The event was funded in part by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for $2,000. The Washington State Arts Commission also contributed funds to make the event possible. Jens Lund, Folk and Traditional Arts in the Parks program manager, spent the day capturing the event on video which will be used for future grant applications.

Jenny Manning contributed to this story.

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