West Seattle schools: Alki Elementary ‘Cedar & Salmon’ potlatch

(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.”

6 Replies to "West Seattle schools: Alki Elementary 'Cedar & Salmon' potlatch"

  • cleat November 5, 2011 (4:13 pm)

    Does anyone know if there are more of that print available for sale, and if so where and how much?

  • Kelly November 5, 2011 (5:19 pm)

    What a wonderful gift of experience these kids have received. I remember very vividly visiting a longhouse for a Potlatch when I was an elementary school student.

  • westseattledood November 5, 2011 (7:55 pm)

    The work of the artist is masterful and beautiful. If others are as fascinated by Northwest Coast and Alaska First Nations’ art and culture as I am, there is a fantastic permanent exhibit (Pacific Voices) at the Burke Museum on the University of Washington Upper Campus off45th NE.

    Thousands upon thousands of artifacts, images, masks, pottery, robes, and so much more are on view. The often intricate potlatch masks are particularly incredible to view upclose – to see one in person at a potlatch is a great honor.

    This is a terrific time of year to go to “The Burke” with the arboretum-like environs which are at the entry to campus where the museum is. There is a terrific cafe next door with sandwiches, tea and coffee, etc. I think they do a first Thursday discount as well.

    The school has received an outstanding gift.

  • youngsters November 5, 2011 (8:19 pm)

    Cleat — you should contact the artist…Ron Wilson http://ofcedarandsalmon.com/ The kids and some parents at Alki Elementary were helping Mr. Long Claw one day a few weeks back when over 400 of those prints were made directly with the silk screen that he had made –in the school cafeteria. He inked it and pressed it on over 400 pieces of paper so the kids could all have one at the end of the Potlatch. It was amazing to watch and the print is beautiful. He is very talented and it was a huge undertaking to involve each class at Alki in performing drumming and/or dance during the potlatch, which he orchestrated all by himself. Good stuff!

  • John November 5, 2011 (8:34 pm)

    There are two great picture that I took which we purposely did not share with the WSB, but will instead print them large (13×19 inch) and present them as a gift to Ron Wilson and give him the digital files to use on his website if he so wishes.

    It truly was a great experience and I hope that Alki will have him back again.

    I will try to share these additional images in the next few weeks if I can.


  • Sv November 5, 2011 (10:29 pm)

    The territories of the Kwakwaka’wakw, north of vancouver island, are rich with culture today. The native bands there are admired throughout the world as responsible for preserving this culture. Thank you alki PTA for this gift, the students will remmenber it for years. It was a special gift to have this shared with us.

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