Klickitat Baskets

Long before the European invasion of North America, a number of autonomous, independent, and linguistically related peoples lived in contiguous territories in what would become the state of Washington. These peoples included the Yakama, Kittitas, Klikitat (also spelled Klickitat), Tainapam, and Wanapam. In 1855, the United States government forced a treaty on these people, grouping them together on what would become the Yakama Reservation and later forming the Consolidated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.

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Hibulb Cultural Center (Photo Diary)

The Treaty of Point Elliot was signed near present-day Everett in Western Washington in 1855. Eighty-two chiefs attend the treaty conference. Fifteen tribes sign over to the United States 10,000 square miles of their ancestral lands. Each of the tribes is to receive $150,000 in annuities to be delivered over a twenty year period.

The Point Elliot Treaty is signed by nine Snohomish chiefs. The Snohomish Reservation (later called the Tulalip Reservation) is intended for occupation by the Snohomish, the Skykomish, the Snoqualme, and the Stillaguamish.

Today the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve has the mission to revive, restore, protect, interpret, collect, and enhance the history, traditional cultural values and spiritual beliefs of the Tulalip Tribes who are the successors of the tribes which signed the Treaty of Point Elliott.  Shown below are photographs of some of the displays in the cultural center.

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The Tulalip tribes–Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, and others-have lived along the Salish Sea (Puget Sound) for thousands of years.

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Two traditional Salish welcoming figures (shown above) greet visitors to the Cultural Center. The female figure shows an elder woman carrying a clam basket. The male figure is dressed in regalia holding a paddle, symbolizing the fact that that the Tulalip people are historically saltwater and river people.

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Cedar:

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One of the displays shows the importance of cedar to the Tulalip tribes.

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The three baskets shown above have two design motifs that make them distinctly Tulalip: the whale and the duck.

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The Tulalip tribes made clothing, such as the shirt shown above, out of cedar. This type of clothing provided protection from the rain. Shredded cedar bark was woven into blankets, aprons, and hats as well as shirts. Cedar barks strips were pounded into soft, workable piece. Natural oils, such as bear fat, deer tallow, duckoil, and dogfish oil, would then be added to the shredded bark to make it softer. To make their clothing and blankets extra warm, the weavers used a variety of fur, such as the hair of an extinct breed of wooly dog and mountain sheep wool, which was woven into the garment.

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The drawing shown above shows how the bark was removed from the tree.

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Fishing:

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According to the display:

“We only too what we needed”

“Our ingenious ancestors crafted ideal fishing and hunting methods suited to the type of catch and environment.”

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During the spring and summer, families would leave their winter longhouses and camp along the shorelines, rivers, islands, and creeks. During this time, they would often build mat houses such as the one shown above.

Salmon were harvested using weirs-fences made from small cedar, maple, or hemlock poles lashed together. The weir would be stretched either part way or all the way across the river. As the salmon swam upstream they would be forced to swim along the weir to the only opening which led into a fish trap. According to the display:

“Weirs were only as good as the leaders in charge of their construction. Our ancestors ensured a good catch by setting weirs according to the environment and the migratory patterns of the salmon.”

The display also indicated:

“Even though they could harvest a large quantity of salmon, history taught our ancestors the need to share the wealth and conserve for future harvests. They were careful to take only what they needed to allow the remaining salmon to swim to the spawning ground.”

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The harvested salmon would be preserved by air drying and smoking (shown above).

Foods would often be prepared by boiling and steaming. Watertight baskets would be filled with water, then hot rocks added to bring the water to a boil. Salmon, shellfish, and other meats would be prepared this way. Steamer clams and mussels would be cooked on hot rocks and covered with seaweed to trap the steam.

The Tulalip people gathered shellfish, speared fish, and caught ducks at night using torches which they would set on the beach or in the bow of the canoe.

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Shown above is an open basket which was used for gathering clams and small fish.

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Shown above is a stone anchor.

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The paddle on the left (shown above) is a woman’s paddle; the center paddle is a steersman’s paddle; and the paddle on the right is a hunting paddle.

Stone Tools:

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Shown above are some stone mauls.

Sacred items:

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Shown above is a raven rattle.

Blackfoot Fur Trade (Photo Diary)

By the end of the eighteenth century, the two largest fur trading companies in North America-the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC, headquartered in London) and the North West Company (Nor’westers, headquartered in Montreal) were vying with each other to establish trading relations with the Blackfoot. With their homelands stretching along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, the Indian tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy (South Piegan, North Peigan, Kainai (Blood), and Siksika) were in prime beaver territory.  

In 1807, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark returned to St. Louis from their journey across North America with reports of the vast wealth of beaver in the Rocky Mountain area. At least a dozen fur companies were almost immediately organized to go up the Missouri River and establish trade with the Blackfoot. None were successful: the Blackfoot, with a reputation as being a fierce and warlike people, did not look favorably upon the American fur traders who were invading their land.

In 1846, Alexander Culbertson and his wife Natawista (the daughter of Blood chief Two Suns) established Fort Benton at a site favorable for trade with the Blackfoot. By this time, the European market demand for beaver was basically dead and the 60 million beaver which had inhabited the headwaters of the Missouri River in 1800 were now almost extinct. On the other hand, the market demand for buffalo robes was strong, and the Blackfoot were located in prime buffalo country.

Today there is a modern replica of Old Fort Benton on the original site-the original blockhouse has been incorporated into it. The warehouse in the Old Fort Benton is dedicated to displays on the Blackfoot Fur Trade. Photographs of these exhibits are shown below.

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Shown above is a display showing how the Blackfoot captured eagles. The trap was baited with a dead rabbit. The hunter then waited concealed in a hole for the eagle to come to the bait. According to the explanation on the display:

“Golden eagle feathers were used by the Blackfoot for ceremonial regalia. Tail and wing feathers were collected by grabbing the eagle by the legs, pulling it into a hole and crushing it. It was high risk work, with injury from beak and talons almost a certainty.”

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Shown above is a display of stone pipe bowls. The pipe is an important part of Blackfoot spirituality.

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Shown above are Indian saddles. While there is a popular stereotype perpetuated by Hollywood movies that Indians rode bareback, in reality they not only used saddles, but also made them.

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Shown above is a Hudson’s Bay Blanket, a very popular Indian trade item which was introduced in 1740. Each short line or “point” woven into the edge of the blanket indicated the number of beaver pelts to be exchanged for the blanket.

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Shown above is a display showing the inside of a tipi.

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Shown above is a medicine bundle. The bundle contains items which symbolize the individual’s personal spiritual power.

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Shown above is a display of a sweat lodge. The sweat lodge is an important part of Plains Indian ceremony. The small lodge is heated using rocks which have been “cooked” in a nearby fire until they are red hot. Within the lodge, water is sprinkled on the rocks to create steam.

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Shown above is a grass dance outfit which belonged to the Indian artist William Standing. According to the display:

“The legend of the Grass Dance began when a mighty warrior had a vision that carried him to a spacious lodge in the sky. The warrior found only a large white rooster inside the lodge. The rooster instructed him in the ways of the new dance and ordered him to take the knowledge back to his people to unify and bring them closer together. The costume consists of a headdress representing the comb of the white rooster, rightly decorated moccasins, and a whipstock made of wood and rawhide lashes which was used during the dance to punish the unruly.”

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Traditional Basketry of Grays Harbor (Photo Diary)

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The Polson Museum in Hoquiam, Washington, has a room dedicated to “Common Land, Uncommon Cultures: Traditional Peoples of Grays Harbor.” The Quinault and Chehalis basketmakers used both wrapped and plain twined techniques. Shown below are some of the baskets which are on display.

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Shown above is a Quinault storage basket which uses cedar twining.  The lid is Makah in design.

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The Tulalip and Europeans

The Tulalip tribes–Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, and others-have lived along the Salish Sea (Puget Sound) for thousands of years. Dramatic changes in their cultures began 1792 with the arrival of the British ship Discovery. Several of the displays at the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve tell the story of these changes from the Tulalip perspective.

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The initial contacts involved trade: the Europeans offered the Tulalip many different kinds of European manufactured goods in exchange for furs and food. The fur trade intensified after the Hudson’s Bay Company established For Langley in what is now British Columbia. Unfortunately, the European traders also brought with them epidemic diseases-smallpox, measles, chicken pox, influenza, tuberculosis, and alcoholism-which devastated the Native population. In a few short years, half of the population died.

The fur trade also brought over hunting which resulted in fewer animals. Then came the European and American settlers who ignored Native rights to the land and simply cleared the land they wanted for their homesteads. This culminated in the Treaty of Point Elliot in 1855. Eighty-two chiefs attended the treaty conference near present-day Everett, Washington. Fifteen tribes signed over to the United States 10,000 square miles of their ancestral lands. Each of the tribes was to receive $150,000 in annuities to be delivered over a twenty year period

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According to one display:

“Not everyone agreed that signing the treaty was a good idea. Some leaders felt they did not have a choice and that signing was the only way to preserve their traditional way of life for future generations.”

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A copy of the treaty is shown above.

Under the reservation system established by the treaty, the people were impoverished. Laws and regulations were imposed on the people as to how they were to live and where they could fish, gather, and hunt. The boarding schools were designed to destroy tribal cultures.

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Religion:

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The United States government sought to exterminate all vestiges of Native American religion and from 1884 to 1934 traditional Indian practices were illegal. The Indian Shaker Church was organized on the Tulalip Reservation in 1810 as a means to continue Native spirituality.

Revitalization:

The exhibits at the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve also tell a story of cultural revitalization: reviving Tulalip culture in the twenty-first century.

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Honoring Tulalip Veterans (Photo Diary)

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As with other American Indian nations, people from the Tulalip tribes in western Washington–Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, and others-have served in the American military during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. One room in the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve honors the Tulalip veterans and tells many of their stories.  

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The drum shown above belongs to Raymond Moses who served in the Army during the Korean War from 1950-53. The drum depicts images of his guardian spirits; grizzly bears from his father’s side and wolf from his mother’s side. He had visions of his guardian spirits right before he stepped on a grenade that fortunately did not detonate.

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While in the past, Indian veterans were denied the use of their traditional religions in dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, today this is not the case.

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Traditional Peoples of Grays Harbor (Photo Diary)

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The Polson Museum in Hoquiam, Washington, has a room dedicated to “Common Land, Uncommon Cultures: Traditional Peoples of Grays Harbor.” Shown below are some photographs from these displays.  

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Shown above is an iron harpoon point. At the time of first contact with the Europeans, Indians were already familiar with iron. They made items such as the one shown above from meteorite iron.

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Canoe paddles such as those shown above were designed with pointed ends. On the return stroke, paddlers rotated their paddles 90 degrees and kept the tips in the water to prevent water drips from spooking their prey. If done properly, the operation was virtually silent. In addition to providing stealth, the pointed ends also serve as stakes for the canoe when driven into the beach. The dark stain on the paddles was created by slightly charring the wood and rubbing it down with seal or salmon oil.

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The Tulalip Longhouse (Photo Diary)

The people of the Tulalip tribes would traditionally spend the winter in their longhouses situated in permanent villages. During the winter months, a great deal of teaching would take place around the longhouse fires. During this time, the elders would pass on the family stories, songs, lineages, and moral teachings. According to the display:

“Our songs, dances, stories, basket designs and carvings are owned by certain families and are used only with their permission. Ownership of this knowledge may be given by families to particular family members, other selected people, or the whole tribe. We have a strict process of granting rights and permission to use this type of knowledge.”

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Shown above is the entrance to the longhouse in the Hibulb Culture Center.  

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The poles shown above were carved about 1914 by William Shelton. As a young boy in the 1870s, he had been to the great potlatch house at Skagit Bay Head. In 1912, he advocated for a longhouse to be built on the Tulalip Bay. These posts were carved for this longhouse according to his childhood memories of the posts at the great potlatch house. The television screen provides visitors with the stories of the Tulalip peoples.

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Shown above is the outside of the longhouse showing the shed roof configuration.  

Suquamish Canoes (Photo Diary)

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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The two figures in the center represent the Ancestors, from a time before the land was shared with non-Indians.

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The two people in the front of the canoe are the Suquamish people today.

Modern Canoes:

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Tulalip Canoes (Photo Diary)

For the Salish-speaking tribes of the Washington coast, canoes were traditionally not only their most important form of transportation, they were also cultural icons. The Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve honors the Tulalip (Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, and others) cultures.

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The importance of canoes to the Tulalip peoples is evident in the Hibulb Culture Center. The canoe theme shown in the windows above is repeated throughout the Center.  

Canoes were made by hollowing out a single log with fire and adzes. By filling the hollowed out log with hot water, the canoe makers could then widen the canoe by forcing stout cross-pieces between the gunwales.

Carving a canoe begins with spiritual preparation: the carvers must prepare themselves with fasting, prayers, and the sweatlodge. It is not uncommon for the task of carving a large canoe to take two years. Once the log is chosen, a prayer is said for the cedar and an offering is given to thank it for its sacrifice.

The final stage in carving the canoe involves the use of hot rocks and water to steam-bend the sides outwards. This steaming also draws the bow and stern upwards as well as adding strength to the vessel. For the large ocean-going canoes, the prow and stern pieces are added last, the thwarts and seats are installed, and the exterior is finished. Then the canoe is given a name and is ready to begin its life on the water.

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Three canoes are displayed in the Center.

River Canoe:

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The river canoe shown above was carved about 1880 by William Shelton. It was restored by the Tulalip Tribes Carving and Arts Department.

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The bow of the canoe is shown above.

Small Canoe:

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This small canoe was carved about 1930 from a single log by William Shelton.

Ocean-Going Canoe:

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This canoe was made about 1880 as part of a wedding dowry. The canoe was built by the bride’s family from the Quinault Nation and given to the Tulalip groom is a wedding present.

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Shown above is a detail of where the mast would have been placed. Sails, prior to the arrival of the Europeans, were made from woven mats.

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The canoe was made from hollowing out a single large cedar log. The sides were then spread apart and the bow and stern pieces were then added.

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The bow is shown above.

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The stern of the canoe is shown above. The stern piece was added to the dugout form.

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The photograph above shows the additional piece which was added to the gunnels.

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The photograph above shows how the thwarts (i.e. seats) were attached.

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Suquamish Art (Photo Diary)

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The Northwest Coast is a region in which an entrenched and highly valued artistic tradition flourished and continues to flourish. 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 in what is now the state of Washington.  Suquamish art continues today in a variety of different media. One room of the Suquamish Museum is dedicated to contemporary art forms.  

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Basketry:

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Woodwork:

One of the outstanding characteristics of the tribes of Northwest Coast is the highly developed skill of woodworking. Contemporary Suquamish artists continue to work in wood.

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One of the unique items among Northwest Coast Indians are kerfed boxes in which the sides of the box are made by scoring and then bending a single board to form the sides of the box. The single side seam is then carefully fitted and sewn together with spruce root. The bottom of the box is also carefully fitted and sewn to the sides. Shown above is a contemporary version of this traditional box.

Personal Adornment and Clothing:

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Masks:

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Wall Art:

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The design shown above is needlepoint.

Other art:

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Suquamish Basketry (Photo Diary)

The Northwest Coast is a region in which an entrenched and highly valued artistic tradition flourished and continues to flourish. 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 in what is now the state of Washington.  

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Traditionally, the Suqamish made several different kinds of baskets, each with a special use. Writing in 1895, anthropologist Franz Boas reported:

“A great variety of baskets are used-large wicker baskets for carrying fish and clams, cedar bark baskets for purposes of storage.”

Coiled baskets were used for collecting berries, carrying water (yes, they were woven tight enough to be waterproof), cooking (hot stones were dropped in the water filled baskets to cook the food), and for storing dried foods. Open weave baskets were used for gathering clams, small fish, and seaweed.

After the European invasion began, the Suquamish basketmakers began making special baskets for sale as collectables. They also wove other small items for sale including dolls and toys.

Shown below are some of the baskets which are on display in the Suquamish Museum.

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Ancient America: Tulalip Archaeology

The Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve has several displays of artifacts found during the archaeological excavation of sites occupied by their ancestors. While it is not a part of the Tulalip cultural beliefs to uncover ancestral remains or ancient village sites, the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve was gifted these artifacts and is now charged with the responsibility to care for them in perpetuity for the ancestors who once owned them. The artifacts were gifted by archaeologist John L. Mattson.  

Hibulb Site:

The Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve is named in honor of the great village of Hibulb which was the largest village of the Snohomish Tribe. The village was built within a large palisade of upright cedar poles approximately 18 feet high. The village was positioned so that the people could defend themselves against hostile tribe and communicate by messengers with the smaller villages along the shoreline.

Hibulb had the largest longhouse in Snohomish territory: 115 feet and 43 feet. In addition to the big longhouse, the village contained four smaller longhouses (100 feet by 40 feet) and other structures.

Some of the archaeological artifacts from this site are shown below.

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Biderbost Site:

The Biderbost Site (45/SN/100) was the first significant wet site excavated in Washington. Archaeological wet sites exist when waterlogged artifacts like wood weirs, nets, and basketry are preserved in an oxygen-free environment. The site was uncovered during a flood on the lower Snoqualmie River in 1959. The site was occupied about 2,000 years ago.

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Peterson Site:

While Dr. Mattson estimates that this site is probably not more than 3,000 years old, tribal elders feel that it goes back to time immemorial. This was a large fishing and hunting village.

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The Suquamish Museum (Photo Diary)

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The area along the Pacific Coast north of California and between the Cascade Mountains and the ocean, is the home to many Indian nations who traditionally based their economy on the use of sea coast and river ecological resources. 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.  

“We are the Suquamish people. We are a tribe, a nation, a culture, and a family.

We share a proud heritage founded on the teachings of our ancestors, and an enduring future forged from our spirit, wisdom, and enterprise.

We are born of these ancient shores, where the water touches the land, and where the gifts of opportunity are revealed with every changing tide.

Wherever those tides may carry us, these shores will always be our home.”

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One wall of the museum (shown above) presents a time-line history of the Suquamish people.

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One of the most important Suquamish villages once stood on the shores of Agate Passage. This is where the Suquamish built Old Man House, the largest longhouse on the Salish Sea. This was a major intertribal gathering place where people from all across the region came together for trade, celebrations, and diplomacy. In 1841, Joseph Perry Sanford, a member of the United States Exploring Expedition, described the Old Man House:

“It measured 200 ft by 100 ft. The floor is of earth and sunken. It had on either side 20 uprights and on which were rudely carved uncouth figures with head, eyes &c.”

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The entrance to the museum is between two carved house poles which are sometimes called the welcoming figures.

The Museum:

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Shown below are some of the items displayed at the museum:

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The Squamish were traditionally a fishing people. Mounted on the museum’s ceiling is a display (see photos above) showing a woven net/basket and a school of fish.

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The rather nondescript rocks shown above, labeled as “cooking rocks”, were heated in a fire, then dropped into a water-filled basket. In this way, the water could be brought to a boil and the food cooked. It should be noted that not just any rocks can be used for this since many rocks simply disintegrate when heated.

Spirituality:

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As with other Indian tribes, living a successful life depended on the assistance of spiritual helpers. Individuals had songs and dances, set to the rhythms of hand drums, to obtain their help. Much of the carving and painting on both common and ceremonial objects was designed to gain cooperation from one’s spiritual guides.

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Shown above is a raven rattle.

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Suquamish Veterans Memorial (Photo Diary)

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While the United States government has generally been less than honorable in its dealings with Indian nations and with Indian people, during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries Indian people have shown great loyalty and patriotism by serving in the U.S. military. As a result of their service in World War I, all Indian veterans were granted U.S. citizenship in 1919 and all Indians were given citizenship in 1924. Indians were given citizenship again in 1940 to make sure that they would be eligible for the draft.  

Shown below are some photographs of the Suquamish Veterans Memorial.

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A few hundred meters up the hill from the memorial is the cemetery where Chief Seattle was buried. The American flags dotted the burial grounds mark the graves of Indian veterans.

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Powwow 101: Grass Dancers (Photo Diary)

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The powwow is a public celebration and demonstration of community pride in Indian culture and a way of honoring Native American heritage. At the present time, there are powwows held in all fifty states and in most of the Canadian provinces. Some are held on reservations and reserves, while others are held in places such as universities and colleges. There are many who feel that the male grass dancers represented the oldest style of dancing at the modern powwows. Originally, the dancers had braids of grass dangling from their belts and during the dance the dancers would move so that the grass braids swayed like the prairie grass in the wind. Today’s dancers use ribbons instead of grass, but the idea maintaining the swaying movement continues. A good grass dancer is balanced: if he makes a series of steps with his right foot, then these steps are mirrored with the left foot. Shown below are some of the grass dancers at the 45th annual Kyi-Yo powwow at the University of Montana in Missoula.

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Powwow 101: Fancy Dancers (Photo Diary)

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The powwow is a public celebration and demonstration of community pride in Indian culture and a way of honoring Native American heritage. At the present time, there are powwows held in all fifty states and in most of the Canadian provinces. Some are held on reservations and reserves, while others are held in places such as universities and colleges. The male fancy dancers are usually crowd pleasers with their brightly colored outfits. They also wear two feather bustles: one high between the shoulders and one low, hanging from the waist. Shown below are some of the fancy dancers at the 45th annual Kyi-Yo powwow at the University of Montana in Missoula.

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The Powwow (Photo Diary)

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It begins with the drums. This is the signal for the dancers to enter into the dance arbor, usually led by dancers carrying the eagle feather staff. This marks the Grand Entry which starts each powwow session. This is a powwow: the most common form of Indian celebration.

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The powwow itself is not a religious or spiritual ceremony; nor, in its current form, is it a particularly “ancient” celebration. The powwow is a public celebration and demonstration of community pride in Indian culture and a way of honoring Native American heritage.

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Following the eagle staffs, carried by Fancy Dancers in the powwow shown above, are the flags-American, Canadian, tribal, MIA, state (this varies from powwow to powwow). At many powwows, following the flags are the “royalty” and other dignitaries.

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The dancers continue to file in-it is not uncommon for a grand entry to take a half an hour-until all dancers have entered the arbor.

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On the other hand, for many people – dancers, drummers, and spectators – the powwow is also a spiritual experience and a spiritual ceremony. Many begin their participation in powwow by smudging: cleansing and spiritually purifying themselves, their dance regalia, and their drums with the smoke from sage or sweetgrass.

Background:

During the Dark Ages of American Indian Religious Freedom (1880 to 1934), the Indian Office (the current Bureau of Indian Affairs) and the local Indian agents discouraged all types of Indian dancing as barriers to civilization. Christian missionaries to the reservations often complained that Indian dances “inflamed animal passions and the immoral and uncivilized people.” Indian agents were told by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to prohibit Indian dancing as such activities were deemed to be injurious to the moral welfare of the Indians.

The Baptist field matron for the Kiowa-Commanche Reservation in Oklahoma condemned powwow dancing in 1915:

“These dances are one of the breeding places of illegitimate children, which is becoming the shame of the tribe.”

The new superintendent for the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana addressed his concerns over Indian dances in 1917 by stating:

“I recommend the policy of repression and at the same time instruction to show the uselessness of these practices.”

On the other hand, non-Indian tourists had an interest in seeing the Indians dance. While Indian dancing was discouraged on the reservation, non-Indian groups often invited Indians to put on dances in off-reservation venues as a part of celebrations intended to attract tourists.

In 1911, for example, Colorado Springs, Colorado invited a group of Ute to be a part of an exhibition at an 8-day carnival. The Indians performed dances and other ceremonies that were discouraged at their reservation. The events, while not favored by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, were popular with those attending the event.

In spite of attempts to eradicate Indian dances, the dances continued. In the off-reservation venues, the dancers would often be from different tribes and thus a kind of pan-Indianism developed in which the powwows were not a celebration of one particular Indian culture, but of Indianness in general.

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Contemporary Powwows:

At the present time, there are powwows held in all fifty states and in most of the Canadian provinces. Some are held on reservations and reserves, while others are held in places such as universities and colleges. Some powwows are held in conjunction with tribal casinos.

People dance at powwows for many reasons. Some dance because they are Indian and this is a way of celebrating their heritage. Powwows are a time for renewing friendships, for seeing family and friends, for coming home.

Many powwows will include naming ceremonies, honoring ceremonies, and give-aways to mark significant life events, such as graduations, birth, marriage, and homecomings (particularly for veterans).

Some dance because they earn money in the contests. Many large powwows run dance contests and some dancers travel a powwow circuit, dancing at different powwows each weekend, and earning enough money through their winnings to stay on the road.

Dance contests are usually categorized by gender and age group. In addition, there may be categories for different types of dances. For men, this might include Fancy Dance, Traditional, Grass Dance, and Straight Dance. For women, this might include Traditional, Fancy Shawl, and Jingle Dress.

Some dance because of their personal spiritual beliefs and vision. It is not uncommon for Indians in the process of recovery from alcoholism and/or drug addiction to dance as a way of spiritually reinforcing their sobriety.

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Grand Entry

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Kyi-Yo:

For 45 years, the Indian students at the University of Montana have been holding the Kyi-Yo Powwow which draws dancers from throughout the region. Shown below are a few photographs from the latest powwow.

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