Celeste Loneia is a fascinating member of the Suquamish Tribe. She is a longtime friend of Dr. Julie Ann Gustanski, president of the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation. Loneia has volunteered to teach tribal customs, folklore and crafts to the wee ones at the foundation’s Curious by Nature School’s Northwest Native Traditions Camp.
Although I visited the school just a few weeks ago, I decided an opportunity like this justified breaking my vow to not make repeat visits to the same institution on such short notice.
It was a smart move.
At the school, Loneia was dressed in her regalia vest and tribal apparel. As she displayed one, she shared a story with the kids about the cedar paddles used by tribes of the region to pull huge canoes through the waters of the Puget Sound. Doing so, she described the importance of the cedar tree to the Coast Salish people.
“Tribes of the Northwest used cedar trees, ‘the Tree of Life,’ to make their dugout, fishing and war canoes, some of which could be as long as 60 feet,” she said. “Cedar was used to build their homes, their spectacular totem poles and other important cultural artwork, like wooden masks and bentwood boxes.
“They also made clothing and baskets from cedar root fiber and shredded cedar bark,” she explained, and she demonstrated with a long ribbon of soaked cedar bark, which she had the kids pound on until the fibers fragmented.
Then she showed them how to weave the threads of cedar bark into a strap.
“The tribes used the cedar strands to weave baskets, clothing and jewelry,” she said.
Loneia invited students to touch and try on two hats that had been beautifully woven out of cedar bark, and she shared a story of the young eagle feathers with which one hat was adorned.
She described how the tribes preserved salmon, then she passed around a pint-sized mason jar that contained some of the fish the kids could see. She talked about how the tribe now processes salmon, and she gave a small can of tribe-processed salmon as a special gift to each student.
Bless her heart. She pretended I was one of the students.
“Curious” youngsters were intrigued by the story of Loneia’s “protector,” a large amulet carved from cedar which she wore on a necklace of turquoise beads. The kids also handled and examined the glass beadwork on the beautiful bracelet she wore.
Students examined Loneia’s Eagle talon necklace and enjoyed a demonstration of a carved model of a bald eagle emphasizing its powerful talons.
Students were entranced as they watched a video story titled “How Raven Stole the Sun.” Loneia said the story is shared by many Pacific Northwest Coast Nations, like the Tsimishian, Haida, Heiltsuk, Tlingit, Coast Salish and Inuit. In their mythology, the Raven is the creator of the world, but it is also considered a trickster.
Following lunch, everyone went to the school’s outdoor nature area to exercise and explore.
“We do this daily,” Gustanski said, “rain or shine.”
It was a great experience, and all of us kids gained a greater appreciation of how things were with the original inhabitants of the greater Puget Sound area.Hugh McMillan is a longtime freelance writer for The Peninsula Gateway. He can be reached at 253-884-3319 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.