The Legacy Of Stan Purser
Stan Purser, a Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribal member whose parents were Irene Fulton and Edward Purser and who was one of 11 children, took great pride in his family and culture. In this spirit, several times a year, he would take his kids and grandkids to powwows around the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas. At these celebrations of Salish tribes like his own, Stan would watch his loved ones dance and sing and connect to themselves and others.
His granddaughter, Dawn Purser, remembers: “(The powwows) were a place for kids and elders to be together for the day. There was lots of singing and dancing and people coming together and (Stan) wanted to bring that home. He saw there was a place for that here.”
In 1985, Stan began the event that would become a large part of his legacy. Now in its 34th year, The Stan Purser Memorial Powwow is celebrated every February and is still planned with love of community and culture by members of the Purser family, including Dawn who serves as one of the event’s key organizers.
This free, open-to-the-public powwow takes place over the course of two days and brings together tribes from all over western Washington and beyond along with people who are just interested in or curious about tribal culture.
The Powwow opens on Friday with vendors from around the area selling mostly home- and handmade items. For art lovers, many of the vendors have an emphasis on Pacific Northwest native arts and crafts, including carvings, jewelry, and traditional textiles.
Tribes participating in the Powwow also arrive on Friday and entertain throughout the afternoon and evening with impromptu performances of traditional songs and dances, known as the Coastal Jam. The Port Gamble S’Klallam Canoe Family prepares a large feast for the visiting tribal members. Depending on the number of tribal guests, non-tribal attendees are sometimes invited to the table. The Port Gamble S’Klallam—known as gracious and welcoming hosts—never turn anyone away if there’s enough to go around!
While Friday should not be missed, it is a warm up for the big event. On Saturday, the salmon begins smoking and the clams hit the firepit early to prepare to feed a crowd of hundreds that begin to settle in around noon as a steady drumbeat serves as a promise of the festivities ahead.
At or around 2 p.m. (cooking times on a clampit do, after all, vary), the Feast begins! Clams, cockles, oysters, salmon, and other seafoods are piled high on platters for all to enjoy. As is tradition, tribal elders are seated at a table of honor with their own food so they can enjoy the feast without waiting in line.
In addition to the traditionally prepared seafood, members of the Purser family, the Port Gamble S’Klallams, other tribes, and various tribal and non-tribal organizations donate fry bread, drinks, desserts, and other foods to make sure the Feast lives up to its name!
After everyone has had their fill, attendees settle in for the Grand Entry, which begins with the procession of the flags. Veterans lead the march carrying the Port Gamble S’Klallam, American, veterans, and P.O.W. flags.
Next up are the dancers who enter the room based on their style of dance, each of which can be identified by their traditional garb. For men, traditional dancers emerge as warriors in bustles and feathers. Grass dancers appear in long yarn fringe that sways when they move, as if dancing in the wind. The so-called Fancy dancers are just that—full regalia and make-up.
The women follow the men onto the floor in buckskin or ribbon dresses for traditional dance. Jingle dancers can be heard before they’re seen as the 400 snuff can lids delicately woven into each dress chime and sing. The end of the parade brings the Fancy Shawl dancers who twirl and spin to make their capes dance as much as they do.
An emcee hosting the Powwow leads the Intertribal portion of the afternoon signaling to different tribes to bring forth their drum group to perform their traditional songs. Dancers take the floor with men in the center and women forming an outside circle, taking small, precise steps. Songs and dances for warriors, veterans, prayers, and healing are performed.
Eventually, everyone is invited to take the floor and feel the power of dance—however they would like to express themselves! While there are some moments that are intended for tribal members only (don’t worry, they’ll tell you!), this Round Dance is intended as an opportunity for everyone to come together and enjoy the spirit of the day.
“The Powwow is a safe place for people to come and experience tribal culture. We keep it informal on purpose. We want to make sure everyone feels included—it really is like a great big living room of people dancing and hanging out together,” said Dawn.
When the singing and dancing end, be sure to hang around for one of the most popular moments of the whole weekend: the games! Beginning with musical chairs, guests can “buy in” other attendees into the game, which includes rounds for youth, teens, and adults of all ages.
As the day comes to a close, the Candy Toss begins with handfuls of candy from big sacks that are tossed out to the crowd. This game, in particular, is meant to honor the Powwow’s namesake, who always had candy (and marbles) on hand at his house to sell for a nickel to the reservation’s children. In reality, though, Stan usually just gave it away—the smiles he received were payment enough.
While Stan passed away just a couple of years after the first event, according to Dawn, that’s what the Stan Purser Memorial Powwow is still about—bringing joy and building community: “When we’re stuck in our own little houses, in our own little worlds, day-in and day-out, we forget how to be with others and be a part of a community. The Powwow teaches people—particularly our youth—how to do that. That is what Stan Purser wanted—to get the kids together with the elders to celebrate their culture by teaching tradition. If the adults learn from it too…all the better.”
Learn even more about the Stan Purser Memorial Powwow HERE.
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