The Northwest Coast culture area is oriented toward water: both the ocean and the many rivers flowing into it. Before the coming of the Europeans, the villages were built near water, either on the sea coast or on a river. Transportation was primarily by water. Distances were measured by how far a canoe could travel in a single day. The traditional cultures of the Norwest Coast Indians nations, such as the Suquamish, is often characterized as a canoe culture.
The Suquamish are the people of the clear salt water. For more than 10,000 years they have occupied that area known today as the Kitsap Peninsula, Bainbridge Island, Blake Island, and parts of Whidbey Island.
Traditionally the Suquamish, a Salish-speaking people, were a maritime people. Since settling in the area thousands of years ago, they carried out trade by travelling long distances throughout the Salish Sea. They travelled northward to the islands, westward to the Pacific Ocean and down the coast. They travelled for fishing, trading, visiting, and warfare against enemy nations.
During the 20th century the canoe culture which had characterized Suquamish life nearly disappeared. Then in 1989, a revitalization began with Paddle to Seattle. This event marked the beginning of the re-emergence of many aspects of Suqamish culture.
Carriers of the Canoe Culture Through Time
There are many creation stories among the people: these stories do not contradict one another. In the Suquamish Museum there are six sculptures holding up a canoe giving homage to Carriers of the Canoe Culture through Time.
The two animals at the back of the canoe are Otters: they represent the earliest times of creation, when people and animals could shape shift and had the full freedom of communication.
The two figures in the center represent the Ancestors, from a time before the land was shared with non-Indians.
The two people in the front of the canoe are the Suquamish people today.