Stilly, Skagit Tribes visit Kent Prairie Elementary
August 27, 2008 · Updated 3:44 PM
ARLINGTON Shawn Yanity and Karla Swanson, of the Stillaguamish Tribe, and Lora Pennington, of the Skagit Tribe, convened a simulated smokehouse in the library of Kent Prairie Elementary May 22, to show the students how such gatherings were conducted.
Pennington called a few children closest to her and Yanity, to serve as witnesses for the simulated tribes proceedings.
In the smokehouse there would be laughter, play, teaching and work, carving tools and weaving bark, Pennington said. The job of the witnesses was to remember, which was also important work. Traditionally, things were not written down, so the witness had to say what went on at the smokehouse. That was how our history was recorded. Ive spoken with elders who were your age who remembered what theyd witnessed 50, 60, even 70 years later. Can you imagine having to remember our visit to your school for that long?
Yanity explained that guests to the smokehouse received gifts ranging from meat, berries, baskets and tools to canoes.
Just imagine your mom or dad hosting a party and saying, Heres a new car for everybody who came, or, Heres my kids bike, Yanity said, drawing gasps from his young audience.
Yanity and Pennington then discussed the origins of the names of local areas, families and tribes. Pennington noted that the word Stillaguamish was the white settlers best attempt to pronounce the Tribes name, while Yanity translated the name to mean people of the river.
Every time you say words like Tulalip or Snohomish, youre speaking Lushootseed, Pennington said. Some tribal names were in recognition of their habits or where they were located, while some meanings have been lost to time.
Places like Kent Prairie were named for their first white settlers, Yanity said. It used to be Kents Prairie. An Indian picked up the last name of Frank from the white man he worked for.
Pennington and Yanity emphasized how essential cedar trees were to tribal culture, since they provided necessities ranging from transportation to clothing.
There were no highways, so the rivers were our roads and canoes were our cars, Pennington said. Cedar is easy to work with.
We used the whole tree, from roots to bark and branches, Yanity said. We would harvest the bark while the tree was still standing, without killing the tree, and soften the bark to make clothes, even diapers. Disposable diapers are made of paper now and that comes from trees. Technology has improved the ways we can use our resources.
Yanity and Pennington presented examples of stone hammers and metal fishing net weights that the tribes used, before Pennington told a short story about Lady Louse in Lushootseed and then translated it into English. During the question-and-answer period at the end, Pennington pointed out that each regions pow-wows are conducted differently, since they reflect different cultures, and surprised the students by informing them that chocolate was a tribal food.
The Stillaguamish Tribe has conducted similar programs at Presidents Elementary, but this marked their first such visit to Kent Prairie Elementary.
We just gave them a taste of our culture today, but it opened their eyes, Yanity said. By learning about the history that happened before the settlers, in the area where they live, they can gain a richer understanding and sense of ownership of this region. They think its cool to talk about the tribes.