- Associated Press - Monday, December 8, 2014

PORT ANGELES, Wash. (AP) - One thousand etched stones, once buried below the place that became Port Angeles, tell the story of the Klallam people.

These stones, along with a galaxy of other artifacts, came to light when the ancient Klallam village of Tse-whit-zen was discovered beginning in 2003.

Now seven of the stones - alongside some two dozen other Tse-whit-zen artifacts - are part of a public exhibit at the Elwha Heritage Center, where the Great Hall is the display space.

Viewing the collection, along with the center’s new “Spirit Unleashed” art show by native and non-native artists, is free at the Heritage Center, 401 E. First St., and the Great Hall is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

The exhibit of artifacts opened last Thursday night, along with a reception for the artists in the new show.

Some of the stones, smooth ovals that once rested in the palms of Klallam hands, were designed to catch people’s tears.

Many tears have been shed by the Native Americans who lived here, before and after the discovery of Tse-whit-zen beneath what’s now Marine Drive.

But for Lower Elwha Klallam tribal chairwoman Frances Charles, this Heritage Center exhibit is a long-awaited closing of a circle.

The artifacts, from a village where the Klallam people lived for 2,700 years, have much to teach, Charles believes.

They represent her tribe’s ancestors, people who fished in the salmon-rich Elwha River long before it was dammed twice; who hiked high into the Olympic Mountains to commune with the spiritual and natural worlds.

These objects on display, which include pendants made of elk teeth, carved fish hooks and a spindle whorl made from a single whale vertebra, come from the Burke Museum at the University of Washington in Seattle. There, some 80,000 Tse-whit-zen artifacts have been stored since the village’s unearthing.

Suzie Bennett, manager of the Heritage Center, spent two full days at the Burke, sifting through 35 boxes, each of which contained anywhere from five to 100 artifacts.

She chose 15 for the new exhibit, which also has a display of two Klallam stories: “The Strong People,” about how the Klallams were named, and “Nahkeeta,” the tale of how Lake Sutherland took form.

The stories apply to all Klallam people, Bennett said: the Lower Elwha, Jamestown S’Klallam and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes.

Arlene Wheeler, Lower Elwha Klallam planning director, hopes this exhibit gives viewers a broadened perspective on the place where they live.

“There were people here, thousands and thousands of years before European contact. Port Angeles is a baby, an infant,” she said.

Lower Elwha Klallam artist Roger Fernandes is among the artists in the “Spirit Unleashed” show.

The Seattle resident, a well-known painter and storyteller, is displaying his painting “Spirits Awaken,” a piece that fits well with the ancient artifacts.

“We need to reawaken and remember” our native cultures, Fernandes said.

The 32 works in “Unleashed” include works by Makah tribal member Brandon McCarty and longtime Port Angeles resident Clark Mundy.

Mundy’s three pieces are brass ravens: “The Traveler,” ”The Storyteller” and “The Listener.”

“The layers of symbolism are where it’s at,” Mundy said, looking around the Great Hall adorned with ancient jewelry and tools alongside modern art.

Charles looked around too, marveling at it all.

In the past three years, she has watched the Elwha River dams come down, after a decades-long struggle.

The river, once an abundant source of fish for her people, is free again, even as some of her ancestors’ treasured objects have come back home.

“We really have to sit back and absorb what we’ve accomplished,” Charles said.

“We want to share.”


Information from: Peninsula Daily News, https://www.peninsuladailynews.com

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