Chief Seattle's 145-year-old gravesite gets a new look

Chief Seattle's 145-year-old gravesite gets a new look
The Color Guard makes its way up the newly paved path to Chief Seattle's grave during a dedication ceremony on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of The Kitsap Sun)
SUQUAMISH, Wash. (AP) - A bald eagle glided across the brilliant blue sky, a pestering crow giving chase. Below, more than 100 people dedicated a renovated grave site for Chief Seattle.

The beloved elevated-canoe memorial was 35 years old, rotting and needed to come down before it fell on somebody. The focus of its $200,000-plus replacement are two 12-foot-tall cedar poles, carved and painted to tell the famous chief's story. Andrea Wilbur-Sigo of the Squaxin Island Tribe was the main artist.

"It was a real honor to work on this project," she told the crowd as the eagle appeared on cue. "It was a lot of fun."

The story poles, in black and rust paint and natural cedar, show the 600-foot-long Old Man House built by Chief Seattle's father in the mid-1770s.

Above that is Chief Seattle as a boy, standing in front of sails. It depicts his sighting in 1792, at about the age of 6, of Capt. George Vancouver's ships that were exploring Puget Sound. The left story pole shows Chief Seattle as a warrior, for his tactics in heading off raids by other Indian groups, and as an older man who gave a famous speech in 1855.

He died on June 7, 1866, at Old Man House in Suquamish and was buried in the Suquamish Tribal Cemetery. The cross-topped marble headstone that remains today was placed on the grave in 1890.

The concrete work of the renovation gives it a permanence, said Leonard Forsman, the tribal chairman. A new path also makes it accessible to the disabled.

The city of Seattle, which takes its name from the Suquamish chief, provided a $100,000 grant for the work, which was more than matched by the tribe. Former Seattle mayor Greg Nickels attended. Several Native American and nonnative dignitaries also showed up for the event, which included the Suquamish Singers and Suquamish military veterans posting the colors.

Chief Seattle descendants were there. Mark Crowell told the group he remembers going to the grave as a child and asking his grandfather what it was all about.

"He said, 'Mark, that's your six-time great-grandfather,'" Crowell said. "I thought that was kind of cool."

He said the renovated site is beautiful, and he's proud of it.

Chris Endresen, a former county commissioner who the tribe calls an adopted member, compared the monument to the Suquamish.

"It's different than it used to be, but the tribe is different than it used to be and Suquamish is different than it used to be," she said. "I know the joy and prosperity that have come in the last few years are going to continue.".

___