Tribal Welcome Pole raised at Port Angeles college

By Paige Dickerson
Port Angeles, Washington (AP) November 2010

A dozen tribal members from throughout the North Olympic Peninsula lifted a Welcome Pole into place at the Peninsula College Longhouse last week.

The 20-foot-tall statue depicts a traditionally dressed Native American with forearms extended and hands facing upward in the gesture of welcome common to the Lower Elwha Klallam and Jamestown S’Klallam tribes.

About 250 people braved the drizzle to attend the pole-raising ceremony at the main campus of Peninsula College at 1502 E. Lauridsen Blvd. in Port Angeles.

After the pole was secured in place, the crowd was invited into the Longhouse for dancing, drumming and singing.

A reception followed at the Pirate Union Building.

As the carriers lifted the heavy statue into place, it teetered precariously at about a 50-degree angle from the wet ground outside the Longhouse, called The House of Learning.

“Get some help over here now,” a couple of the men shouted, prompting a half-dozen people to rush to lend a hand in lifting the statue.

The trunk of a cedar tree logged near Lake Crescent was donated by the Lower Elwha Klallam when the Longhouse opened Oct. 15, 2007.

Jamestown S’Klallam artist Jeff Monson has been carving the piece since June in a tent open to the public on the Peninsula College campus.

“I studied many other welcome poles,” he said, adding that he remembered the first time he saw welcome poles in British Columbia.

“They were the most amazing things I have ever seen,” Monson said.

“I thought that I absolutely had to do one of those one day.”

Jamestown S’Klallam Chairman Ron Allen represented his tribe as a formal witness to the event.

“I am very proud of this work and very proud that a Jamestown artist did the artwork on this,” Allen said.

“The Welcome Pole is the spirit of this project.”

Allen said he was appreciative of the Longhouse project as a whole as well.

“Our students come here and are in competition with students of many other cultures, but right here on the campus is a piece of their culture,” he said.

“It creates a bridge for the cultures.”

Jerry Charles – the formal witness for the Lower Elwha tribe in the absence of his wife, Chairwoman Frances Charles – said the project was close to his heart because he can “never say enough about education.

“It gives me the feeling of being in the presence of the ancestors of all of the tribes that live on the Olympic Peninsula,” Charles said.

“It is as if it is saying, ‘We are here to help. Come in. Educate yourselves.”’

Peninsula College President Tom Keegan said he was excited about this final touch on the Longhouse.

“When the students walk in this door, they will know that they belong here,” he said, speaking of the Native American students attending the college.

Monson created the work with the help of apprentices Dave Purser, Dusty Humphries and Brian Charon, all of the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe.

“Jeff has transcended the teachings of the Welcome Pole by teaching and welcoming in another generation of artists,” Keegan said.

Partially funded with $250,000 in private donations, the $830,000 Longhouse’s construction was part of a $36 million building program on the campus that includes the new $22 million science and technology center and a $14 million library and administration building.

Peninsula College has branches in Port Townsend and Forks.