Every year the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe invites teachers and administrators from the school districts in the area to a dinner and potlatch in the Tribal Center. The food is good, salmon cooked on an open fire, clam chowder, elk stew and a pot luck of salads and desserts. Tables are decorated and everyone is in a festive mood, it is time to thank the school people for their efforts in educating the children of the Tribe. Seneca and Raven have been warmly welcomed into the drumming and dancing group and we always enjoy attending.
This year the theme was “Honoring our Elders,” and one of the things I admire about that culture is their appreciation of and respect for the older people. The Klallam language was nearly lost because for several generations children were sent away to boarding schools where they were not allowed to speak their tribal language or to learn to read or write it. Finally there were only a few people left who had grown up with the Klallam language being their primary language. They got together and worked to develop a program for learning and teaching Klallam. Now Klallam is taught as one of the foreign languages in the Port Angeles high school. A highlight of the Potlatch for me was hearing a young woman read in Klallam a legend of the tribe which she had spent a semester writing.
The children always enjoy choosing a teacher as a partner and attempting to teach them one of the native dances.
Toward the end the children pass out gifts, many of which they have made, beaded necklaces, key chains, art work and other items are given away.
The final ceremony involves the five “witnesses” who have been singled out as being representative of the people attending. Each is given an opportunity to share his or her perspective on the evening. Then each of the witness is “wrapped in a blanket” a traditional way of bestowing honor.
And something very special happened at Klallam Dance and Drum practice a couple of days later. Seneca was called forward and presented with a traditional rattle which had been made by one of the older members of the dance group. He said he wanted to honor her for her hard work and faithful attendance with the group. Seneca is thrilled and there is lots of rattling going on around here.