Saturday, September 22, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ancient remains finally return to tribe

Seattle Times staff reporter

SUQUAMISH NATION, Kitsap County — It was more than 50 years coming, but the remains of 11 ancestors of the Suquamish Tribe are finally home.

Some were taken from graves in an archaeological dig during a 1950 field expedition led by the University of Washington at the Old Man House village area, the mother village of the Suquamish tribe. The rest were taken from the site in circumstances no one recalls.

The bones of 11 adult men and women have long been kept at the Burke Museum, which over the past two years has worked with the tribe to get the bones back home. Friday, the remains were reburied with ceremony not far from Chief Seattle's grave.

It was the third step in a reconciliation that began with the return of the Old Man House site to the tribe by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission in 2005.

Next came artifacts from the site and, Friday, the restoration of ancestral remains.

Long held dear by the Suquamish, Old Man House village was not only the tribe's mother village, but also home to Chief Seattle. D'Suq'Wub, or "place of clear saltwater," was occupied for at least 4,000 years as a seasonal camp and, later, as a winter village for fishing, hunting and gathering shellfish.

To hold the bones of their ancestors and return them to their rightful place was emotional, said some tribal members, who helped carry the wooden boxes to their final resting place.

For them, the reburial helped put right the disturbance of their ancestors' graves.

"These kinds of things happen to our families, and they have done a lot of damage to our spirits and our soul. It's like we have a hole in us that needs to be healed," said Marilyn Wandrey, chairman of the elder council of Suquamish.

"Our ancestors have been crying out for their return, that they can be properly buried, so they may rest in peace."

Rex Derr, director of the State Parks and Recreation Commission and a guest at the ceremony, was amazed to be invited to help with the reburial.

"To grab a handful of that earth, to put it on the graves, that was something I didn't expect; they made it inclusive," Derr said. "What a marvelous gesture; it is a lot bigger than any of us individually."

Jim Henry, a member of the Poulsbo City Council, joined tribal members for a salmon feast at Suquamish after the ceremony. "I'm glad we are learning to be more sensitive," he said. "We are becoming better for it."

The reburial closed a long circle of history, said Leonard Forsman, Suquamish tribal chairman.

"It's the completion of the transfer of the park to the tribe," he said. "That represented a lot more than the land; it's the return of the culture and the spirit of the place. This is just part of that progress; to have the people who were here for thousands and thousands of years coming back, too, now it is more whole; it's a healing of the rifts that happened to this tribe."

As she held one of the boxes containing the remains of her ancestors, Wandrey said she felt the rightness and importance of the moment.

"You are holding onto someone that for so many years has been in a strange place, now you have them in your hands, you are holding them in your arms, and all I could think was, 'You are home, you are home, you are finally home.' "

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464- 2736 or

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company


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