Two Towering Story Poles Blessed and Welcomed on Puyallup Land

Two Towering Story Poles Blessed and Welcomed on Puyallup Land

By Kate Manzanares, Puyallup Tribal Member

Thanks to technology, tribal and community members were able to witness the blessing of two new story poles that will stand tall at the entrance of the new Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma.

“These will be here greeting people, long after we’re gone,” said Tribal Council vice chairman Bill Sterud said during the March 10 ceremony. “A lot of these elders, they may not be here physically right now, but they’re smiling, their spirits here.”  

The Tribal Council made it possible for people to view the blessings by livestream, using technology as a way to avoid an active construction zone. 

“Our guests are very powerful people,” Cultural Director Connie McCloud said. “We want to welcome them in a way that we would welcome our chiefs. Our people have always held cedar trees in high honor. These cedar trees gave their lives to become beautiful, sacred poles. Those that do this work give thanks every time they put a part of themselves into these poles—their prayers, their thoughts, their gifts for the people. Today we want to honor the cedar trees, today we want to honor those artists that were a part in making today happen. Today we want to honor all of the people that have contributed to this day to make this day happen.”

The blessings were done by members of the Culture Department and Language Program.

During the ceremony, dancers brushed the story poles with cedar branches. They also performed a carving song, which had dance actions resembling the motions used when carving poles.

A few students from Chief Leschi Schools participated in the event.

Peterson, whose native name is Qwalsius, designed the story poles.

He was raised in Tacoma, and has been a practicing professional artist since 1996. 

“These story poles wouldn’t be possible without taking time with our historians that I spent time with when I was working at Chief Leschi Schools very early on, back in 1995, with Judy Wright,” he said.

Story pole “River,” which will be located in the casino atrium, depicts the formation of the Puyallup River that was created by two killer whales who were trapped in the mountain after the great flood. Due to all the work that Peterson had been commissioned to do throughout the casino, time was in essence so he enlisted help from carvers in his field, including Joe Gobin (Tulalip) and Adam McIsaac.

“I want to thank Joe Gobin, Kelly Moses, Adam McIsaac  ̶  these wouldn’t be possible without these people. The special skill set that they’ve taken time to learn and practice, making this kind of work is a lot of time in isolation and it’s hard,” Peterson said.

The “Sky World” story pole will also be located in the casino atrium. Its story came from several sources including Judy Wright, Jack Moses and Ron Simchen. The story of the sky and its creatures have deep cultural roots to the Puyallup people on their ancestral lands.

“As we come together to bless our relatives here it is important to give thanks to those that came before us our ancestors, our elders, it’s important to give thanks to Grandfather the Creator, to Mother Earth, thankful for the water, the sun, the moon, the mountain, for they provide everything that we need to sustain life for the cedar tree — gave its life to take its place, here is this beautiful facility,” said Tribal Chairman David Z. Bean. “We are thankful to our ancestors for holding on to the teachings. I think they would be proud and happy to see that we are honoring the teaching that they have passed down, from generation to generation, blessing these poles, singing our songs, doing our dances and speaking our language.”