PORT TOWNSEND — When Jo Blair, Kate Storey and others approached Celeste Dybeck, a fellow member of Quimper Unitarian Universal Fellowship and elder of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, about their desire to connect the local native cultures with the Port Townsend community, they never envisioned that the project Dybeck decided to champion would in two years be so warmly celebrated by so many at Memorial Field.
But at Saturday’s opening ceremony for the Chetzemoka Trail in Port Townsend, thousands of local residents and members of the Port Gamble S’Klallam, Lower Elwha Klallam and Jamestown S’Klallam tribes turned out to hail the interpretative trail that tells the story of Chief Chetzemoka’s life and the S’Klallam people.
Memorial Field was part of the ancestral S’Klallam village of qatáy, which was burned down in 1871 on federal orders. The displaced S’Klallam villagers joined the other tribes in the area, so when many of their descendants sat in honor of the trail Saturday, they were returning home in a way.
Marlin Holden, the great-great grandson of Cicmehan, in his invocation said, “As the Chetzemoka Trail opens up, we pray that those who walk that trail will go back in history … and they will know why the S’Klallam people are successful because we learn from our ancestors the right things to do and we pass them on to our children.”
Dybeck urged donors and volunteers to stand and be honored, and in noting how many dozens of attendees were standing, announced, “Everyone look around. It took a village.”
Port Townsend Mayor Deborah Stinson read from a recently uncovered Ordinance No. 3 from May 11, 1871, which forbid, among other things, any permanent Native American house from being built “on the beach from the Catholic Church [Madison Street] to one hundred and fifty feet west of Tyler Street.”
Stinson announced to a cheer that the ordinance “was enthusiastically repealed by city council on June 10, 2019.”
Emcee Loni Greninger read a thank-you on behalf of the three S’Klallam tribal councils for Dybeck “working diligently with dozens of agencies and community groups to conceive, develop, design, locate, permit, produce and promote the many elements that make up the Cicmehan trail,” which was met with applause.
Lys Burden, who worked out the path of the trail connecting all the historic markers as planner and builder, also received special recognition from the tribes. The Native Connections Action Group of Quimper Unitarian Universal Fellowship was also honored.
Jamestown S’Klallam Chairman Ron Allen pointed out that the very village that stood at the field was the village of the main chief of all the 30 or so villages that stretched from “the Hoko down into the Hamma Hamma down into the canal and across the Strait.”
Jamie Validez, Lower Elwha Klallam elder, spoke in English and in S’Klallam saying “We are going to bring back the laughter like we have heard today. We are going to sing songs together and play the drum and speak the language together, right? And we are going to say prayers to heal together. This is our gift; our gift to our ancestors, our gift to all of us together, and our gift to this land that was so sacred to us. This I believe (tee-es-quai-sin).”
Kelly Sullivan, executive director of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, pointed out that “we are honoring a leader that built relationships between cultures and today this path and us all being here, all of you choosing to be here on a beautiful sunny day where you could be doing other things, means a lot to us, and it sends a message to your community that this is important.”
The trail opening ceremony ended with tribal leaders carrying a large cedar bough with S’Klallam singers and drummers and hundreds of attendees following. The bough was laid at the foot of the new totem pole at the Northwest Maritime Center, given by the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe. There they gathered to sing a S’Klallam song, “We Are One.”
Outgoing City Manager David Timmons spoke of his pride and honor that this “truly amazing accomplishment,” which he referred to as “legendary in having this history come alive and have it restored and told,” marks his very last official act of his tenure serving Port Townsend.
Jake Beattie, executive director at Northwest Maritime Center, noted that local residents often introduce themselves with the apparently extraneous detail of how long they have lived here. He thought it was odd, but eventually he understood. “Our connection to this place is as much a part of how we want to be known as the syllables that named us at birth … and today, maybe the first time, I’ve also considered myself a resident of qatay.”
More songs followed and Greninger closed the proceeding with a final blessing spoke alternatively in S’Klallam and English: “… thank you for this day, for it is a very good day today.”
James Cook is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend.