(Photos by John Hinkey unless otherwise credited)
By Keri DeTore
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
It was standing room only in Alki Elementary’s gymnasium Thursday night when students in Native American costumes held a Potlatch as part of an in-school cultural program created by Native American Artist and teacher Ronn Wilson.
A Potlatch is a traditional Native American ceremony that involves storytelling, song, dance, and gift-giving. Alki’s Potlatch was the culmination of a six-week Artist-in-Residence program called “Of Cedar and Salmon,” in which Wilson taught students the traditions and culture of Native Northwest Coast people. He’s been visiting the school twice a week for the past six weeks, sharing stories of how native cultures lived off the land, and teaching skills such as “good listening” and “showing respect.” He adds: “This is a very small piece of a big picture.”
Wilson painted the stage set; the students colored their headdresses as a school project. Kindergartener Freja showed us hers:
Students from all grades participated in drumming and performing dances such as “The Welcoming Dance” and “The Lightning Serpent Dance.” Wilson himself performed dances in elaborate costumes, including the headdress that didn’t just stick out its tongue — it stuck out a tongue with a frog on it.
The gift-giving portion of the Potlatch came at the end, when Wilson presented his own orca painting to the school, and former Principal Clover Codd (left) presented new Principal Chanda Oatis with a print of the painting:
Plus, each participating student got a poster showing the orca design and everyone present received bookmarks depicting the stage set designs.
Ronn Wilson says that beyond “getting kids to connect to Native American culture and tradition, I hope this is a catalyst for them to dig into their own history and connect to their elders.”