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 www.suquamishmuseum.org.

Canoe Journey, July, 2012

Native people along the Northwest Coast and Salish Sea used marine highways for thousands of years. In their hand-carved canoes they paddled both rivers and sea. They used trails through the thick cedar and fir forests (some of our local roads today are laid atop these very trails), but they had no horses. Canoes were faster than feet!

In 1989 Northwest tribes attempted to revive the old culture around this traditional travel during Paddle to Seattle. Nine canoes traveled from Suquamish to Seattle in 1989, but many of them began their journey at LaPush. I have friends who remember being at LaPush that first summer as the canoes began their voyage. After the canoes were launched and began to move out into the water heading north (to enter the Salish Sea and then travel south), people walked and then ran along the beach to keep them in sight as long as possible. None of my friends realized that day what this one canoe journey would become over the following years.

Canoe, Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center,...

Canoe, Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center, Seattle, Washington. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The now annual Canoe Journey has done much more than revive canoe travel. It is reviving traditional languages, songs, dances, carving arts, and an increased concern with spiritual and physical fitness. I think it’s easy to romanticize these journeys, but they take a tremendous amount of work, preparation, and coordination. It has also become a meeting and sharing of cultures as non-Natives help hosting tribes with food preparation and other logistics.

Tribal Journey 2009

Tribal Journey 2009 (Photo credit: DogAteMyHomework)

Editor Richard Walker of the North Kitsap Herald recently described the event as “arguably the largest cultural event in the Pacific Northwest.” I remember reading a news story about it in The New York Times in a July, 2011 issue.

A different tribe hosts each year’s final destination. This year about 100 canoes from tribes throughout the Pacific Northwest are traveling right now to Squaxin, near Olympia, Washington, arriving there July 29. They will stop for visits at more than 70 communities along the way. Some will be traveling as far as 680 miles.

You can see a map as well as a terrific photo show at www.paddletosquaxin2012.org. Be sure to click on the map to enlarge it. You can also see estimated times of arrival at the various stops along the way.