Ancient tribal artifacts go home to be displayed in Port Angeles

In an emotional ceremony Monday at the Burke Museum in Seattle, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe prepared to transport 14 ancient artifacts to the tribe’s heritage center in Port Angeles.

Arlene Wheeler, left, escorts artifacts pushed by Maurice Pitchford, 4, and the Burke’s Laura Phillips on Monday.STEVE RINGMAN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Arlene Wheeler, left, escorts artifacts pushed by Maurice Pitchford, 4, and the Burke’s Laura Phillips on Monday.

By Lynda V. Mapes

Seattle Times staff reporter

Originally published July 7, 2014 at 9:09 PM | Page modified July 8, 2014 at 4:51 PM

State construction contractors inadvertently dug up parts of the largest Indian village ever unearthed in the Northwest 10 years ago this August.

On Monday, members of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe realized a long-held dream, bringing some of the most spectacular belongings of their ancestors back to their home territory, for display in their own heritage center in Port Angeles.

Fourteen artifacts — just a fraction of more than 80,000 recovered from the site — were handed over to the tribe after a brief, but emotional private ceremony at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, where the rest of the collection is still held for safekeeping.

“This is a long time coming,” said tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles, who made the trip to the Burke with her 4-year-old grandson, along with leaders of the Elwha Drum Group and prayer warrior Jonathan Arakawa to commemorate the transfer.

In a basement room with no windows, tribal members first lined up facing east, with two simple cardboard bankers’ boxes on a table before them, holding their ancestors’ possessions, dug up from their waterfront village.

Arakawa called down a blessing on the gathering, and offered thanks and prayers for a historic day, finally come.

Then Mark Charles, dressed in red and black ceremonial regalia, took deep breaths and focused his concentration for long moments, preparing to sing. He at last raised his elk-skin, hand-painted drum and began beating the stately cadence of an ancient song.

Charles’ deep, powerful voice boomed in the small room, which filled with sound as other tribal members joined in, and raised their hands to receive the song.

The objects selected by the tribe are among the most spectacular in the collection: A bone comb, carved on two sides, and found at the site virtually intact. Two blanket pins, carved in the shape of a fawn’s head, and a halibut. Seven etched stones — from more than 900 collected at the site, more than from any other village in the Northwest. The stones depict stories and teachings, and no two are alike.

Also included in the collection is a net weight, and a spindle whorl carved from a single whale vertebrae that Mark Charles found during the work at the site. At the time, he said he was guided by intuition to the location.

The village site was discovered inadvertently during construction of a state Department of Transportation project, which was ultimately shut down and relocated, after the discovery of hundreds of human remains, including many intact burials.

With the end of the project, the money that was paying for the archaeological analysis of the site was shut off, too.

So while the site was one of the biggest and oldest ever uncovered in the Northwest, with portions dating back 2,700 years, most of the collection has never been analyzed, and still awaits interpretation.

The tribe has long wanted to bring the collection home, for curation at the site, which has since been covered over and secured behind a fence. Human remains disturbed during the construction project were reburied as close to their original sites as possible.

The tribe has since built a heritage center in downtown Port Angeles, and will display the artifacts there. The exhibit, which will be on permanent exhibition at the heritage center, opens Saturday with a public ceremony.

“This is something we have talked about time and time again, it’s hard to imagine it is finally happening,” Frances Charles said. “These are priceless to us, in many ways. It’s closure for us, and all the people who were involved with this. It closes the circle.”

The fish hooks, net weights and shell midden discovered at the site document the food sources that used to sustain the village — and which are hoped to boom back, with the removal, beginning in September 2011, of two dams on the Elwha River.

The hydropower dams, built without fish passage beginning in 1910, greatly diminished the river’s salmon runs, and starved the beaches at the river’s mouth for the sediment that used to be home to rich clam beds.

The recovery of the artifacts and the dam-removal project — the largest anywhere in the world — are part of the cultural renewal under way for the tribe.

In the past several years the tribe has built a language program to revive the Klallam language and teach it in the public schools. The tribe has published a tribal language and cultural curriculum, and its first dictionary.

And as the floodwaters behind the Elwha dam receded, the tribe recovered its sacred creation site, hidden underwater for a century.

A celebration of the completion of dam removal is scheduled for mid-September.

Meanwhile, Charles said she hopes the trickle of artifacts coming back to the tribe will eventually become a flood, as the tribe builds a curation facility at its village site to house the entire collection.

“This is just the beginning,” she said.

To make it happen, the tribe needs not only money, but to recover ownership of its artifacts through negotiations with the state. Charles said those conversations are beginning with Gov. Jay Inslee.

As the tribe’s song filled the building, Julie Stein, director of the Burke, came to the door. She watched, clearly pleased, as the boxes were carted to the loading dock, and carried by tribal members into a waiting van for the drive back to Lower Elwha.

“It always feels wonderful,” Stein said, “when artifacts go to the communities that love and use them, to teach people, and bring the ceremonies back to life.”

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or

Suquamish Delegates and Burke Museum Depart for the Philippines

Cultural Exchange between the Suquamish Tribe and El Nido, Palawan, Philippines focuses on cultural heritage, and sustainable fishing and archaeology


 "Ancient Shores, Changing Tides" participants in the Suquamish Museum. L to R: Janet Everts Smoak, Barbara Lawrence-Piecuch, Arvin Acosta, Carmelita Acosta, Robert Arevalo, Mariel Francisco, Enrico Cabiguen (2nd row), Mimi Cabral, Jun Cayron (1st row), Mary Barnes, Lace Thornberg.Photo by Wade Trenbeath.
“Ancient Shores, Changing Tides” participants in the Suquamish Museum. L to R: Janet Everts Smoak, Barbara Lawrence-Piecuch, Arvin Acosta, Carmelita Acosta, Robert Arevalo, Mariel Francisco, Enrico Cabiguen (2nd row), Mimi Cabral, Jun Cayron (1st row), Mary Barnes, Lace Thornberg.
Photo by Wade Trenbeath.

Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture

Seattle – This week, seven representatives of the Suquamish Tribe are in the Philippines. Over the course of eight days, they will visit communities on Palawan Island and learn about the archaeological history of the island, as well as its modern day challenges to preserve natural resources in the face of tremendous growth in both tourism and development. The visit is part of “Ancient Shores, Changing Tides,” a project that is part of the Museums Connectsm program, an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs that is administered by the American Alliance of Museums.

The Suquamish delegation’s trip to the Philippines follows on the heels of a visit seven heritage enthusiasts from the Philippines made to Seattle and Suquamish this past October. During their eight-day stay in Washington, the Filipino delegates learned about museum curation and collection practices through guided tours of several museums in the region: the Burke Museum, Wing Luke Museum, Suquamish Museum, and the Makah Museum and Cultural Resource Center.

In addition to comparing their community museums, the ways in which their heritage is preserved, and local efforts to attract tourism, the Filipino and Suquamish groups are also comparing their fisheries management practices. The Filipino delegates were able to go out with Suquamish Seafoods divers to see geoducks being harvested. When they visit El Nido, the Suquamish delegates will travel through a community-managed marine protected area to see how those practices are helping fish stocks to recover in an area threatened by dynamite fishing, overfishing, and climate change.

The sustainable fishing component has led to some rather delicious opportunities. At a traditional foods feast held at the House of Awakened Culture in Suquamish, more than 200 people gathered to enjoy a feast featuring locally-harvested geoducks, salmon and Manila clams. On Palawan, the delegates will be able to taste grouper, dolphinfish, anchovy, squid, crabs and more. There, locally harvested fish, seafoods, shellfish, and seaweeds will all be prepared according to traditional Cuyonon techniques.

The travelers representing Suquamish are tribal chair Leonard Forsman and his wife Jana Rice; tribal elder Jay Mills; Suquamish Museum director Janet Smoak; the Suquamish Tribe’s youth programs director Kate Ahvakana; the Tribe’s grants coordinator Angela Flemming; and Tribal member Kah-ty-ah Lawrence. Travelers representing the Burke Museum are project manager Lace Thornberg, associate director Peter Lape and community relations director Ellen Ferguson.

With this trip coming in the wake of super typhoon Haiyan, there is certain to be a lot of discussion between the groups about recovery efforts—and how to build communities that are more resilient to the effects of climate change.

When the Filipino delegates rode the Bainbridge Island ferry back to Seattle from Suquamish, they witnessed something few Seattleites have been lucky enough to see: orcas in south Puget Sound. These majestic animals had also accompanied the ferry that was carrying Suquamish artifacts from the Burke Museum to the new Suquamish Museum the day before. Perhaps the delegates from Suquamish will be lucky enough to see a manatee – known locally as a dugong – make a rare appearance while they travel El Nido’s waters.

“Ancient Shores, Changing Tides” is one of ten Museums Connectsm programs taking place throughout the country this year. The mission of the Museums Connect program is to strengthen connections and understanding between people in the United States and abroad through innovative, museum-based exchanges that address critical needs or timely issues in museums’ local communities and help museums better serve the public.

A Totem Pole History: the Work of Lummi Carver Joe Hillaire

Joe Hillaire

Burke Museum, Burke Room
Wed., Dec. 4, 2013 | 7 – 9 pm
$5 at the door. Free to Burke Museum members.

Join Editor Gregory Fields, Coast Salish carver Felix Soloman (Lummi/Haida), and pigment and paint specialist, Melonie Ancheta, for a richly illustrated discussion of the life and influence of Joseph Hillaire who is recognized as one of the great Coast Salish artists, carvers, and tradition-bearers of the twentieth century.

Prof. Fields will introduce the book, “A Totem Pole History: the Work of Lummi Carver Joe Hillaire,” along with the songs and stories recorded by Hillaire and his daughter, Pauline. Contemporary carver Felix Solomon, noted for his work in the revitalization and perpetuation of Coast Salish Lummi carving, will also present.

A Totem Pole History: the Work of Lummi Carver Joe Hillaire
The book includes chapters by Felix Soloman, Bill Holm,  Barbara Brotherton, Skokomish artist and scholar CHiXapkaid Michael Pavel,  Melonie Ancheta,  and others. In addition to the book, a media companion (a DVD and two audio CDs) titled “Coast Salish Totem Poles” will be available and includes Lummi stories, songs, and an illustrated presentation of Pauline Hillaire interpreting several of her father’s major totem poles.

Doors open at 6:30 pm. $5 at the door. Free to Burke Museum members.

Elwha exhibit at Burke explores reborn river

Oceanographer Daniel Hernandez strains to pull on the end of a seining net on the Elwha River in an effort to count the fish in a designated area.
Oceanographer Daniel Hernandez strains to pull on the end of a seining net on the Elwha River in an effort to count the fish in a designated area.

An exhibit based on the Elwha book by Seattle Times’ Lynda Mapes and Steve Ringman opens Saturday at the Burke Museum.

By Keith Ervin, Seattle Times

Chinook salmon returned to the Elwha River this fall in numbers not seen in many decades.

Other creatures have followed the salmon in returning to the Olympic Peninsula valley after an 8-mile stretch of the river was reconnected to saltwater when the Elwha Dam was removed.

A Burke Museum exhibit that opens Saturday tells the story of a river, the people who have depended on it, the scientists who study it, and the changes wrought first by the construction of two dams and now by the biggest dam-removal project in U.S. history.

“Elwha: A River Reborn,” based on the book of the same name by Seattle Times reporter Lynda Mapes and photographer Steve Ringman, runs through March 9.

Mapes will speak, and members of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe will talk and perform at the opening of the exhibit, which combines photographs, artifacts from an ancient Klallam village, a million-year-old salmon fossil and hands-on activities.

Children can play the part of a scientist or a journalist in “Camp Elwha,” an interactive exhibit inside a tent.

At the heart of the exhibit is the river, where salmon, steelhead and lampreys lost 70 miles of spawning grounds when dams blocked their passage more than a century ago.

It is also the story of the regeneration that has taken place since the Elwha Dam was removed in 2011 and will continue after demolition of the upstream Glines Canyon Dam is completed next year.

Mapes and Ringman followed the story, first in the pages of this newspaper and then in their 2013 book copublished by Mountaineers Books and The Seattle Times.

“This is a profoundly hopeful story,” said Mapes, who is currently a fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT.

“It shows that in the right place and with the right conditions, you really do have a chance to start over. You can take a place that’s been used for industrial development, even for a very long time, and have nature come booming back. “

An iconic image for her was a water ouzel in a restored tributary delicately holding a coho salmon egg in its beak “as if it were a glass of fine cabernet.”

George Pess, a NOAA fisheries biologist and a source for Mapes’ reporting, said that as salmon have returned, otters, bears, lampreys and many other animals have come back.

“Everybody kind of got the signal, whether it’s smell or sight, everybody knew something was happening that hadn’t happened in a long time that was important to the ecosystem,” Pess said.

Restoring the salmon to something resembling their once-legendary glory will take years, Pess said.

Bringing back towering trees where lake silt has replaced the humus-rich soil of a long-gone forest, Mapes said, will take much longer.

Although that won’t happen quickly, she said, “One of the things that struck me is how ephemeral the works of man are and how incredibly resilient nature is.”

The exhibit was created by the Burke Museum in collaboration with The Seattle Times, Mountaineers Books and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.

Exhibit Opening Day: Elwha: A River Reborn


Burke Museum
Sat., Nov. 23, 2013 | 10:30 am – 2:30 pm
Included with museum admission; FREE for Burke members or with UW ID

Celebrate the opening of the Elwha: A River Reborn exhibit and the remarkable ecological and cultural restoration unfolding right now in the Olympic Peninsula’s Elwha River Valley. Listen to stories, talks, and attend music and dance performances from members of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe. Also attend talks and book signings from Seattle Times reporter Lynda Mapes, whose book inspired the exhibit.

Schedule of Activities:

10:30-11:30 am: Roger Fernandes, storyteller and member of Lower Elwha of the Klallam Tribe, shares a  welcoming song and stories of the Lower Elwha.

11:30 am – 12:30 pm: Lynda Mapes, journalist, author of Elwha: A River Reborn, and close observer of the natural world will tell of writing her articles for the Seattle Times, which then lead  to the book and the exhibit. Lynda will also be available to sign copies of her book.

12:30-1:30 pm: The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s river restoration director Robert Elofson offers his perspective on the history of the Elwha Dams and the ongoing restoration.

1:30-2:30 pm: The Elwha Drum Group,  made up of young and adult members of the Lower Elwha Tribe, will share songs and drumming in the Burke Room.

Elwha: A River Reborn

Nov. 23, 2013 – Mar. 9, 2014 at the Burke Museum

Photo by Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times
Photo by Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times

Elwha: A River Reborn, a new exhibit from the Burke Museum, takes you into the Northwest’s legendary Elwha River Valley to discover the people, places, and history behind the world’s largest dam removal project, an unprecedented bet on the power of nature. Once legendary for its pre-dam wild salmon runs and Chinook weighing as much as 100 pounds, today the Elwha is being dramatically rethought as its two massive dams are torn down. With the start of the first dam blasts in September 2011 comes a chance for unprecedented environmental restoration and community renewal.

Based on the book by Seattle Times reporter Lynda Mapes and photographer Steve Ringman, Elwha: A River Reborn exhibit sheds light on this essential part of Washington State’s history through compelling stories, stunning photographs, and Burke collections, from fish to cultural objects from the Elwha region.

Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture

Open daily 10 am – 5 pm | Phone: 206-543-5590
Located on the UW Campus at 17th Ave NE and NE 45th Street

Empowering Women: Artisans Cooperatives that Transform Communities

June 12, 2013 – Oct. 27, 2013 at the Burke Museum, Seattle

One Moroccan artist teaches a village of women to read. An embroiderer from India takes out her first loan. A Hutu woman from war-torn Rwanda works with a Tutsi to make “peace” baskets. And a soup kitchen for AIDS orphans delivers meals because of a folk art cooperative’s success in Swaziland. From Africa to Asia to the Americas, female artisans are creating grassroots cooperatives to reach new markets, raise living standards, and transform lives.

Empowering Women provides an intimate view of the work of ten such enterprises in ten countries. This exhibition illustrates the power of grassroots collaborations to transform women’s lives, through inspiring personal stories, stellar photographs and stunning examples of the cooperatives’ handmade traditional arts.

Open daily 10 am – 5 pm | Phone: 206-543-5590
Located on the UW Campus at 17th Ave NE and NE 45th Street


Weekend Activities at the Burke: Coast Salish Art

Burke Museum
Sat., Apr. 20, 2013 – Sun., Apr. 28, 2013
11 am –  3 pm
Included with museum admission; FREE for Burke members

Saturdays and Sundays in April, 11 am – 3 pm

Photo (c) Jack Storms/Storms PhotoGraphic.
Photo (c) Jack Storms/Storms PhotoGraphic.

Every weekend in April, enjoy Coast Salish art activities at the Burke. See Coast Salish artifacts not normally on display, and try your hand at a large weaving loom. Also join us for guided exhibit tours every Saturday at 1 pm.

The Burke Museum offers weekend activities throughout the year with themes changing monthly. Check our events page for updates on other upcoming weekend activities.

Coast Salish Art Programs at the Burke

April 2013
Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture
Seattle, WA

First Woman. Yellow Cedar.By Luke Marston. Photo by Armstrong Creative.
First Woman. Yellow Cedar.
By Luke Marston. Photo by Armstrong Creative.

Seattle – The Burke Museum is pleased to offer a variety of programs featuring the groundbreaking artwork of Coast Salish artists. In April, attend a discussion panel with practicing artists, see art demonstrations and talk to artists about their work, and view Coast Salish art from the Burke Museum collections.

Discussion Panel: Coast Salish Art in the 21st Century
Friday, April 5, 2013 • Kane Hall 120, UW Campus • 7 pm

Coast Salish artists are using computer graphics, laser cutters, and glass hot shops, as well as adzes, knives, and looms to bring traditional forms into the 21st century. Join a panel of artists lead by Shaun Peterson as they share the challenges and rewards of transporting the vision of their grandparents into the modern world.

Panelists include artists Heather Johnson-Jock, lessLIE, Luke Marston, and Danielle Morsette.

FREE for all and open to the public. Pre-registration recommended. Reserve your seat today at

Special Event: Coast Salish Art & Artists Day
Saturday, April 6, 2013 • Burke Museum • 10 am – 3 pm

Explore artwork and demonstrations by notable Coast Salish artists in mediums such as weaving, sculpture, and print-making. Attend film screenings, and try your hand at a communal weaving piece on a large loom.

Art demonstrations include:

  • Coast Salish weaving on tabletop and upright frame looms
  • Cedar bark basketry weaving
  • Hand spinning yarn with a spindle whorl
  • Acrylic on paper pieces
  • Film screenings of Teachings of the Tree People: The Work of Bruce Miller and Killer Whale and Crocodile

Participating artists include Bill and Fran James, Heather Johnson-Jock, lessLIE, Luke Marston, Danielle Morsette, and Karen Reed.

Included with museum admission; FREE for Burke members.

Coast Salish Art programs are supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and 4Culture.

Weekend Activities @ the Burke: Coast Salish Art
Saturdays & Sundays in April • Burke Museum • 11 am – 3 pm
Every weekend in April, enjoy Coast Salish art activities at the Burke. See Coast Salish weaving pieces not normally on display, and try your hand at a large weaving loom. Also enjoy guided exhibit tours every Saturday at 1 pm.

Included with museum admission; FREE for Burke members.

The Burke Museum is located on the University of Washington campus, at the corner of NE 45th St. and 17th Ave. NE. Hours are 10 am to 5 pm daily, and until 8 pm on first Thursdays. Admission: $10 general, $8 senior, $7.50 student/ youth. Admission is free to children four and under, Burke members, UW students, faculty, and staff. Admission is free to the public on the first Thursday of each month. Prorated parking fees are $15 and partially refundable upon exit if paid in cash. Call 206-543-5590 or visit The Burke Museum is an American Association of Museums accredited museum.

To request disability accommodation, contact the Disability Services Office at: 206.543.6450 (voice), 206.543.6452 (TTY), 206.685.7264 (fax), or email at The University of Washington makes every effort to honor disability accommodation requests. Requests can be responded to most effectively if received as far in advance of the event as possible, preferably at least 10 days.