Remembering: The Suquamish Museum

I ran barefoot much of the summer growing up in Montana, but it’s been many years since I’ve wandered barefoot outside. Come summer, I’m going to try it. A friend recently described a book many natural healers are reading, Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever? by Clinton Ober, Stephen Sinatra, and Martin Zucker. The main idea is that we have not only literally lost touch with the earth, but we have insulated ourselves against it. In that process, we’ve lost its healing energy.

Cover of "Earthing: The Most Important He...

Cover via Amazon

I thought about that as my grandchildren and I recently visited the new Suquamish Museum celebrating the past–and the present–of the Suquamish Tribe. I am 100% Swedish and my family’s foods and cultural traditions are reflected in that heritage: split pea soup, homemade rye bread, and potato sausage and lefse at Christmas. I even like to sit outside and soak up those first warm rays of sun in late February or early March, much like the Scandinavians do.

Suquamish Museum 058

Suquamish Museum 058 (Photo credit: WA State Library)

But I’ve also been very aware of the people who walked on my little patch of earth for thousands of years before European settlement only some 200 years ago. You might call it curiosity and respect, but it’s more than that–a sense of connection and an energy for me from this ground on which I walk.

I remember visiting the old museum when it first opened back in the early 1980’s. I was there when a group of Russian bishops visited some years later, and I often took any out-of-town visitors to see it. I started volunteering at the old museum several years ago in a dark back room with low ceilings.

Gone are the dark back rooms! The new 9,000-square-foot museum opened this past September. From the “tideline” of resin filled with shells, grass, sea stars, and kelp which is embedded in the wooden floor to the school of moving fish hanging from the ceiling in front of a large fishing weir, the facility speaks to the creativity and imagination of the tribe and its artists. This first area of the museum, “Ancient Shores, Changing Tides,” holds some of the display items from the old museum, but also items that haven’t been on display before.

I was relieved to see the old video, “Come Forth Laughing,” which features tribal elders’ memories, incorporated into the new museum–in a unique way. The display case of cedar baskets is lovely. My grand-daughters also enjoyed the art exhibit featuring current tribal members’ work. The museum is a great combination of the historical and the contemporary–weaving, basketry, fishing, sports, carving. Yet to be installed (soon) is a timeline that will cover one long wall. I saw a mock-up of it recently in a back area of the museum and it will be worth another trip back to see it!

If you’ve not made your first trip, do plan an outing for one of these dark and wet winter days. It’s near the center of Suquamish, clearly marked. All the native plantings around the facility create a beautiful setting. For more information, the museum website is

5 thoughts on “Remembering: The Suquamish Museum

  1. Mary,

    What a(nother) great little window into your world. Thank you. I am looking forward to going there with you, and soon.

    Your talking about our loss of contact with the earth reminded me of a summer a few years ago when my parents were still alive. They had about 60 acres of forest in the Oregon Coast Range, between Corvallis and Newport, essentially. They’d built a very small cabin on it, on a little hillock that had a lot of light, and had built it out of lumber they harvested from trees right there, by mule, and made on a portable lumber mill. An old friend of mine built it for them. It was rough hewn, cozy, and just right. They spent many many happy summers out there, and many other times during the year. I did too, but shorter periods.

    One summer I went out by myself, when they weren’t there, and spent a week. A little retreat, I guess. I cooked a pot of brown rice, a pot of lentils, and had lots of vegetables, and a big bottle of wine, some eggs, and some good bread, and coffee. That was it for food for the week. I walked, read in the sunshine, needlepointed on the deck that faced out into the woods, and to the north. It was so quiet that I heard a groundhog pull a weed down into the earth. Whoosh. I saw it disappear right down. I’d been alerted by a scratching sound, which I would only have been able to hear because it was of that quiet. I spent a day outside without any clothes on, just to see what it felt like. No one was around for miles. It was kind of odd at first, then I got used to it and it felt quite natural. It felt amazing to feel the breeze on all of my frame and skin. No shoes, either.

    So there’s a sharing memory of being outside and close to things. I’ve never forgotten it.

    So, thanks so much, once again, for your great little stories.


  2. I loved this, Elizabeth! What a wonderful memory to have always with you! And we have more to talk about–for several years back in the late ’60’s I used to make occasional trips between Corvallis and Newport, and often looked at those little cabins tucked back into the hillsides, wondered who lived in this remote area. We visited acquaintances, a young couple, in one of those cabins one time. They had chickens living in a section of the house–just on the other side of the wall from where we visited. I think they were in touch with the earth!

  3. Mary- Have you ever made split-pea soup and rye bread? i did not realize that was Swedish though I have tasted and talked with Heidi about some of the other Swedish dishes she recalls. i don’t know if Heidi likes pea soup?

    The idea behind that book is interesting. You should try taking your shoes off and walking a bit in your yard– next summer , of course, and write about it!


    • I make lots of split pea soup, Sher, and used to make rye bread. Lately I’ve only been doing wholewheat bread with a little rosemary in it. Yes, will let you know next summer about bare feet adventures….

      On Thu, Nov 29, 2012 at 5:38 PM, MARY EKSTRAND

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