SEQUIM — “I can see so much love in this.”
Loni Grenninger’s words Saturday morning encapsulated a warm reception and re-dedication of a totem at Pioneer Memorial Park that was created by Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal elder Harris “Brick” Johnson more than five decades prior.
Grenninger, council vice chair for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, and more than a dozen of Johnson’s family members, friends and others helped celebrate the park’s totem, whose presence they say signifies a community partnership.
“He was a big force for us … (and) he wanted people to understand the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe is part of the community,” W. Ron Allen, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe chairman and CEO, said Saturday.
“We’re very proud of it as a symbol of our community living together, Indian and non-Indian alike.”
The totem’s history dates back more than 50 years, when Johnson — after an estimated 400 hours of work — gifted the piece to the Sequim Prairie Garden Club during the 74th Irrigation Festival in 1969. Sequim Rotarian Cy Frick was the emcee at its dedication in May of that year.
Over the years, weather had taken its toll on the totem’s colors, and in 1987, it got a fresh coat of paint. Alexis Younglove, a fifth-grader at Garfield Elementary in Olympia and grand-daughter of Dee Kardonsky of Sequim, wrote an essay about the tribe during the school year and included a picture of the totem.
Her teacher suggested she raise some funds to have it repainted. The class raised $47 dollars, and in July 1987, Younglove donated the funds to Johnson as Harry Schlaffman of Sequim Kiwanis Club got busy adding the fresh coat.
Priscilla Hudson, Sequim Prairie Garden Club historian, noted Saturday the totem’s base had become rotten. The restoration work came to Terry Johnson, Brick Johnson’s nephew, and after some delays — it was originally slated to be rededicated in 2019, on its 50th anniversary — the totem was welcomed back by family members Saturday morning.
“This is what it looked like when Brick carved and painted it,” Allen said.
“I’m always proud I was part of his life,” Sandy Johnson noted.
The totem features four figures with a soul symbol at the back. At the top is the Thunderbird figure. As Brick Johnson noted in a hand-written description to the garden club, the Thunderbird, known as Tatooch, or Tsoona, is “the instrument of ‘He who dwells above’ and carries out the creative will, including creating other spirits, the elements, etc. When he flies, his flopping wings cause lightning.”
Second is the Medicine Man who “holds a medicine or soul catching device in each hand.”
Third is Wolf, who “bestows its happy spirit to help people,” Johnson wrote. “Coast Salish search for this spirit in order to become fine hunters. Women obtaining this spirit become skilled weavers of blankets and mat-makers. The holders of wolf’s spirit also become skilled in woodcraft and their sense are extraordinary, being highly developed.”
At the bottom is Beaver. “This spirit bestows ‘medicine powder’ and ability to change snow or bitterly cold to rain or mist by chanting his song,” Johnson wrote.
Hudson said the totem is a welcoming to the park and the community.
“The next generations need to know how to live together, to save the history and those memories,” she said.
Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].