Students treated to coastal potlatch

Kwagiulth tribal carver and storyteller brings his wares and stories to Seven Oaks in Lacey

lpemberton@theolympian.comMarch 17, 2014 

Students and families at Seven Oaks Elementary School in Lacey had the opportunity to experience a Northwest coastal potlatch last week.

The event, which included dancing, drumming, storytelling and artwork, was the pinnacle of a two-day program at the school that immersed hundreds of students into hands-on classes about art and culture of the Northwest’s first people.

“I see it as a field trip that came to us,” principal Becky Lee said.

The program featured an assembly, art workshops and an evening potlatch organized by Ronn Wilson, 58, of Woodinville.

His nonprofit group, Of Cedar and Salmon, leads workshops for schools and groups throughout the Northwest.

The Kwagiulth carver and storyteller, who is also known as LongClaw, has shared the stories and heritage of his people, of northern Vancouver Island, with school groups for more than 40 years.

“It’s definitely been a privilege as well as a responsibility,” he said.

Wilson said the goal of his programs is to create a bridge to native cultures and build awareness for students and their families. By sharing his culture, he hopes students will want to learn more about their family’s ancestry and culture as well, he said.

Wilson has led guest workshops at Seven Oaks several times – in fact, they try to bring his program in every four or five years, according to fourth-grade teacher Laurie Jones.

The two-day program costs about $1,500 and was paid for with a multicultural grant from North Thurston Public Schools and the PTA. It was geared toward third- and fourth-graders who are studying coastal tribes and other Native Americans in their social studies classes, Jones said.

During one of the workshops, Wilson displayed several tables of baskets, rattles, masks and other items that students could look at and gently handle. He showed them a deer bladder that was used to carry water.

“If you want to know what one tastes like, bite into a hotdog,” Wilson told the students.

Some laughed at his comment, but most of them said, “Eeww.”

He showed them a walrus tusk, and a bentwood box and several masks, and explained that Northwest coastal tribal people found ways to use every part of an animal — they never let anything go to waste.

Wilson said Northwest tribes also had an abundance of food, which meant they had more time to carve, weave and do other projects.

“What I love about him is not just his inventory of artifacts, and his stories, but he really teaches the integrity of the culture,” Jones said.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433

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