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Celebrating 104 years of Chief Seattle Days | Kitsap Week

Visiting dancers with tribes from the Northwest and beyond compete in the 2013 Chief Seattle Days pow wow in Suquamish. - Richard D. Oxley / North Kitsap Herald
Visiting dancers with tribes from the Northwest and beyond compete in the 2013 Chief Seattle Days pow wow in Suquamish.
— image credit: Richard D. Oxley / North Kitsap Herald

Kitsap boasts many annual events from fairs to arts and crafts bazaars. But perhaps no other festivity is firmly anchored in region’s cultural heritage than Chief Seattle Days; a celebration of the region’s most famous chief, a member of the Suquamish tribe, and for whom the city of Seattle is named after.

Chief Seattle Days began on Aug. 14 with a golf tournament in Kingston. But the main celebration continues Aug. 15-17, centered in downtown Suquamish around the House of Awakened Culture, 7235 NE Parkway, Suquamish.

The annual celebration has been a part of the North Kitsap community since 1911. It is held on the third weekend in August to honor the famous Chief Seattle.

The tradition of Chief Seattle Days has maintained many aspects of the initial celebration more than 100 years ago, such as canoe races, dancing, and cooking up delicious salmon. The event also takes time to honor the historic chief, whose grave site is located in Suquamish. On Saturday, Aug. 16 at 9 a.m., a memorial service will be held for Chief Seattle at his grave site, located at 7076 NE South St., behind Saint Peter’s Catholic Mission.

“There’s a prayer, a speech and an honoring,” said Suquamish Tribe spokeswoman April Leigh.

Chief Seattle Days has grown considerably, into a cultural exchange. It is a time to experience the Suquamish culture. The three days are filled with dancing at the pow wow, canoe races, drumming, songs, salmon dinners, walks, a 5K fun run, a parade, awards and much more.

“There’s dancing competitions,” Leigh said. “There’s different names of different dances for men, for women, for tiny tots.”

“There’s also a host drum,” she said. “That means the group that will be on the drum and singing during the entire pow wow.”

One highlight of the annual event is the Chief Seattle Days Royalty Pageant. Each year, one young man and woman from the Suquamish community are honored with the title of Chief Seattle Warrior and Miss Chief Seattle Princess. There are also junior titles for two youngsters in the community.

“They become our representatives for the whole year,” Leigh said.

But the cultural exchange isn’t limited to the Suquamish experience. Chief Seattle Days acts as a cultural crossroads with other Native American tribes. Tribes from across the Northwest and beyond make a journey to take part in the pow wow, sharing dances and songs. Visiting vendors also bring representations of their regions cultures. Each year brings new people from different tribes who come to take part in the festivities.

“It varies,” Leigh said. “It could be local with Yakama or Spokane, or it could be a lot farther. I’ve talked to people before from Arizona, Oklahoma, Kansas.”

With so many cultures crossing paths, spectators should be considerate and respectful, especially when taking photographs. Some cultures do not allow pictures to be taken of regalia, or other traditional items.

“We have many people coming from many nations to participate in the pow wow,” Leigh said. “Some require you to ask to take their photo. Not all, but some.”

“As a courtesy it is always best to ask,” she said. “Especially if they are in pow wow regalia.”

One notable visitor is an Aztec dance group that performs on Saturday and Sunday.

Perhaps one of the more unique aspects of the event, is the parade on Saturday. With little organization — no person or group registers for the parade — community members line up at the tribal administration building up the road from downtown at 10 a.m. When the mood is right, floats, people in costumes, and more strut into downtown.

Chief Seattle Days also offers a mouth watering feature on Saturday and Sunday with a traditionally prepared salmon dinner. The salmon is alder baked in the open. The meal cost $9, and $6 for seniors and children 12 and younger. It comes with red potatoes, cole slaw, baked beans, bread and water.

Parking for the event is free in general parking areas in downtown Suquamish. Free shuttle service is also provided from the Clearwater Casino, where attendees can park.

More information about Chief Seattle Days, and the range of activities offered, can be found on the tribe’s website, www.suquamish.org.

Chief Seattle Days

This is just a small sample of the many events featured at Chief Seattle Days. For an expanded schedule, visit www.suquamish.org.

Friday, Aug. 15

3:30 p.m. Chief Seattle Days Royalty Pageant

6 p.m. Cultural Song and Dance Coastal Jam

Saturday, Aug. 16

9 a.m. Chief Seattle memorial Service at grave site

10 a.m. Parade

1 p.m. Pow wow grand entry

5 p.m. Aztec dancers performance

7 p.m. Pow wow grand entry

Sunday, Aug. 17

10 a.m. 5K fun run

Noon Pow wow grand entry and Aztec dancers perform

4 p.m. Raffle and awards

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