Providence Marianwood celebrates Snoqualmie heritage

May 1, 2012

By Tom Corrigan

John Mullen shares tribal customs during Mother Joseph Pariseau Day

Wayne Greaka, who learned the art of carving from John Mullen, spoke briefly about the year or so he spent creating the beaver mask seen here. Greaka’s hands are resting one of Mullen’s handmade canoes. By Tom Corrigan

John Mullen, a member of the Snoqualmie Tribe, has been a carver and sort of spokesman and educator for the tribe for about 11 years.

In addition to spreading and teaching the Snoqualmie tradition of carving, Mullen also carries on the tribe’s tradition of singing and drumming.

On April 16, he was at Issaquah’s nonprofit Providence Marianwood skilled nursing facility, with his handmade tools, one of his handmade dugout canoes and plenty of stories to share.

Mullen’s visit was part of Marianwood’s marking of April 16, formally Mother Joseph Pariseau Day in Washington.

A member of the Catholic order of the Sisters of Providence, Mother Joseph is credited with building 29 hospitals, schools, orphanages and shelters for the aged or mentally ill in the late 1800s in Washington and surrounding states.

Her influence can be felt as far north as Canada, said Providence Marianwood’s Andrea Abercrombie, who told residents at least part of the story of the Sisters of Providence and Mother Joseph in Washington.

Some 155 years ago, the Sisters of Providence founded what became Providence Health Services, which operates Marianwood. The organization maintains ties to the Catholic order to this day, according to Arlene Carter, executive director of the Providence Marianwood Foundation.

Because Mother Joseph was dedicated to helping others, each year Providence Marianwood commemorates Mother Joseph Day with some kind of charitable drive. This year, residents, staff members and visitors collected several tables full of school supplies for donation to the Snoqualmie Tribe. Mullen was on hand to accept the donation.

During his talk, he showed off his handmade carving tools, some of which are specially designed for a lack of mobility he has in his right hand. And all of his tools are handmade. He even has a carved block of wood with a handle that he uses as a hammer.

On the Web

In 2009 and 2010, The Issaquah Press documented John Mullen’s efforts to carve a traditional canoe for the Snoqualmie Tribe. Read the articles and watch videos of the process at and

While the carving tools are clearly important, the tops of dugout canoes, at least when they are made of cedar, eventually are steamed open. The bottoms of the canoes are filled with water. Extremely hot rocks are placed in the water to create steam, which in turn spreads out the wood, making the canoe opening larger. The task can take three days to accomplish.

Mullen also had with him several kinds of handmade canoe paddles, including one that early Snoqualmie people could have used as a weapon in a pinch. A river paddle had points on the end for pushing floating obstacles out of the way as well as for potentially spearing fish.

Mullen also used a handheld drum to perform two traditional Snoqualmie songs. Both used more tones than actual words. He said one song was believed to be more than 800 years old.

Mullen has a personal connection to Providence Marianwood. Both his mother and his wife have been employees of the institution. He has volunteered at the facility. The Snoqualmie Tribe recently awarded a grant for upgrading Marianwood’s garden.

Prior to Mullen’s talk, Abercrombie supplied the 25 or so residents on hand with a brief history of Mother Joseph. Along with three other nuns, Mother Joseph arrived at Fort Vancouver in Washington in 1865. Within three weeks, the nuns were taking in orphans. At the time, the area had no hospital and few schools. Abercrombie credited Mother Joseph with changing that, founding dozens of charitable institutions and eventually becoming known as “The Builder.”

Mother Joseph died of a brain tumor at age 79 in 1902. Former Washington Gov. Gary Locke dedicated each April 16 as Mother Joseph Day in Washington beginning in 1999.

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