Culture Bearers: 5 Carvers Who Kept Northwest Coast Carving Alive, Part 1

Richard Walker, Indian Country Today


From the late 1800s until 1934 in the U.S. and 1951 in Canada, the potlatch—the great system of celebration, honoring, witnessing, and wealth redistribution—was banned in an effort to kill indigenous cultural ways. Potlatch-related activities, such as carving, were banned. Authorities confiscated regalia. People who went to potlatches were arrested and jailed. And yet, the cultural ways survived.

Among those who defied the unjust laws of the time were the artists who continued to carve regalia masks, house posts, great totem poles, and sea- and ocean-going canoes. Here’s a list of some of the carvers and their artistic heirs whose legacy is a culture that is living and thriving. This list is by no means complete.

Charles Edenshaw, Haida (1839-1920) For three months this year, the National Gallery of Canada exhibited 80 objects created by Edenshaw, calling him “one of the most innovative artists working on the West Coast at the turn of the 20th century.”

He was in his mid-40s when Canada’s anti-potlatch laws were enacted, yet, according to the National Gallery, his “deep-seated belief in Haida traditions … gave him the agility and fortitude to thrive as a Haida artist during oppressive colonial rule.”

His works included bentwood boxes, masks, rattles, staffs and totem poles. He advanced gold and silver engraving in traditional formline design. He had, the gallery wrote, an “ability to animate Haida stories in his carving.” He was interested in new materials and visual ideas and, according to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, may have been the first Haida artist to work in silver and gold.

Edenshaw produced many commissioned works; major collections of his works are housed in museums in Chicago, New York, British Columbia, Quebec, and Oxford. His drawings were published in the anthropologist Franz Boas’s 1927 book, Primitive Art. And his work was first exhibited as “fine art” in 1927 by the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa; the exhibit later travelled to the Musée du Jeu-de-Paume in Paris.


Chief John McCarty, Makah (c. 1850- unknown) McCarty, whose Makah name was Hishka, was a hereditary chief whose uncle signed the Treaty of Neah Bay in 1855. Hishka carved canoes used in whaling and sealing and “had a whaling canoe of his own,” said John McCarty, Hishka’s namesake and grandson. He said a sealing canoe carved by his grandfather still existed in the 1950s.

Hishka also created a large Thunderbird with moveable wings and beak, which was used to tell the story of how Thunderbird captured a whale for food. Hishka’s grandson and great-grandson made a similarly dramatic presentation when the Makah Nation hosted the 2010 Canoe Journey: they created a large whale with moveable fins, eyes and mouth. Singers sang a song to wake up the whale, its eyes opened, and dancers came out of the whale’s mouth.

Hishka’s descendants continue his legacy of service to the Makah Nation—his son, Jerry, served as chairman. His namesake grandson served as director of the Makah Whaling Commission and dances the chief’s song he inherited from his grandfather, and his great-grandson, Micah McCarty, served as Makah Nation chairman.


Micah McCarty continues his great-grandfather’s work on behalf of Makah’s culture and people. He’s served as chairman of the Makah Nation, and was a 2012 finalist for the Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Award. Ecotrust wrote that McCarty has strengthened “response to oil spills in coastal waters, has helped to protect tribal whaling rights, and has fostered strong connections between tribal and non-tribal governments.” (Ecotrust)
Micah McCarty continues his great-grandfather’s work on behalf of Makah’s culture and people. He’s served as chairman of the Makah Nation, and was a 2012 finalist for the Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Award. Ecotrust wrote that McCarty has strengthened “response to oil spills in coastal waters, has helped to protect tribal whaling rights, and has fostered strong connections between tribal and non-tribal governments.” (Ecotrust)


Charles Edwards, Samish (1866-1948) The Samish Indian Nation had “a reputation for its skilled craftsmen,” historian Bret Lunsford wrote in his book, Anacortes. To that reputation, Edwards contributed The Telegraph, a famous racing canoe carved circa 1905, now on display at a museum on nearby Whidbey Island; the Question Mark 2, a racing canoe carved in 1936 after the original Question Mark went into retirement (it now resides in Virginia); and a 60-foot pole in 1938 that depicted important cultural figures.

The 1938 pole was removed in 1981; the carved images were restored and are on display in the Swinomish Tribe’s social services building. Swinomish artist Kevin Paul carved a replica pole that was raised in 1989.

Edwards was also a leader and advocate for Native treaty rights. He represented the Samish before the U.S. Court of Claims in 1926 in Duwamish, et al Tribes of Indians v. United States. His son, Alfred, served as chairman of the Samish Indian Nation. A great-granddaughter, Barbara James, is treasurer and former vice chairwoman of the Swinomish Tribe.

William Shelton, Snohomish (1869-1938) At a time when his people were disallowed from speaking their language and practicing their customs, Shelton devoted his life to preserving and sharing the traditions of the Snohomish people through art, public presentations, and his book, The Story of the Totem Pole or Indian Legends, written at the Bureau of Indian Affair’s request. (The book was republished in 2010 by Kessinger Publishing, which specializes in rare, out-of-print books.)


Shelton’s works included a longhouse and a story pole on the Tulalip Reservation; a story pole commissioned by residents of the City of Everett; a 37-foot story pole for a park in Freeport, Illinois; and a story pole, requested by his state’s governor, for the state capitol grounds.

In 1931, he was a speaker at the dedication of a bronze and granite marker commemorating the 1855 signing of the Point Elliott Treaty; other speakers included a member of Congress and the governor.

Shelton passed away before his final pole was finished and the work was completed by other Tulalip carvers. There was some symbolism in that; historian Margaret Riddle wrote on that Shelton’s accomplishments “served as the bridge for following generations who found new ways to continue his work.”

William Shelton carves a story pole circa 1920. He wrote a book about totem poles and Native stories, and used his art to build bridges of understanding between Native and non-Native peoples. ( of History and Industry)
William Shelton carves a story pole circa 1920. He wrote a book about totem poles and Native stories, and used his art to build bridges of understanding between Native and non-Native peoples. ( of History and Industry)


Mungo Martin, Kwakwaka’wakw (1879-1962) Martin was raised in the potlatch tradition of the Kwakwaka’wakw and hosted the first public potlatch since his government’s potlatch ban of 1884. His career was long and prolific; he carved his first commissioned totem pole in Alert Bay around 1900.

In 1947, Martin was hired by the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia to restore and create replicas of sculptures, totem poles, masks and other ceremonial objects. Between 1952 and 1962, he created new and replica poles for Thunderbird Park at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria. Among his monumental works: Wawadit’la, a Kwakwaka’wakw big house; a 160-foot totem pole that remained standing until 2000; and the Centennial Pole, presented to Queen Elizabeth to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of British Columbia. This pole stands in Windsor Great Park near London.

In his later years, Martin sang and recorded songs, and prepared novices for Kwakwaka’wakw ceremonies.

Martin’s descendants include some of the most accomplished Northwest Coast Native artists: Richard, Tony and Stanley Clifford Hunt are his grandsons; Shirley Hunt is a granddaughter; Jason and Trevor Hunt are great-grandsons.

Mungo Martin is one of the 20th century’s most distinguished Kwakwaka'wakw carvers. (Wikimedia)
Mungo Martin is one of the 20th century’s most distinguished Kwakwaka’wakw carvers. (Wikimedia)





The Evergreen State College Creates New Position for Tribal Relations

With the goal of deepening and expanding relationships with tribal governments in the Pacific Northwest, The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington has named former Makah tribal chairman Micah McCarty to the new post of Special Assistant to the President for Tribal Government Relations.

“Micah is a noted tribal leader and artist, with great experience in health care, cultural survival, treaty resources, sustainable development, and energy issues,” said Evergreen President Thomas L. “Les” Purce. “We know his expertise and passion will help us strengthen our relationships with Native communities.”

McCarty is working with the Washington state-based Tribal Leaders Congress on Indian Education to review curricula and educational pathways for Native students, from the Head Start program up to the Ph.D. level. McCarty has also established a relationship between local tribal governments and the college’s newly formed Center for Sustainable Infrastructure to improve tribal water systems.

Some 4.5 percent of current Evergreen students are Native American. Evergreen hosts the Longhouse Education and Cultural Center, the first Native longhouse built on a public college campus in the U.S. The college also offers a master of public administration degree with a concentration on tribal governance, a program of study on Native American and world Indigenous Peoples, and sponsors a reservation-based program where classes are offered locally and the study topics are determined in partnership with tribal authorities.

McCarty previously served on the National Ocean Council Governance Coordination Committee and former Governor Christine Gregoire’s blue ribbon panel on ocean acidification. He is also focused on what Native communities have to offer Evergreen.

“Tribal governments are great educational resources, because of their growing diversity in expertise. It only seems logical that we find more ways to work together for the advancement of education as a whole,” said McCarty. “Long-term tribal leadership is based on interdisciplinary experience and creative thinking—both of which are great Evergreen attributes,” he said.



Most Peninsula tribal reservations will ban marijuana as it legalizes in state

By Arwyn Rice, Peninsula Daily News

If you live on or visit a reservation on the North Olympic Peninsula, don’t bring marijuana.

At least four of the six tribes in Clallam and Jefferson counties will not recognize Washington state’s 2012 legalization of recreational marijuana.

The use and possession of pot will remain illegal on tribal lands controlled by the Makah, Lower Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam and Quileute tribes, their representatives told the Peninsula Daily News.

The Hoh tribe in West Jefferson County has yet to make a decision.

Representatives of the Quinault did not respond to Peninsula Daily News requests for information on their policy toward marijuana.

Voters statewide legalized pot by approving Initiative 502 a year ago by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin.

The state is finishing procedures and regulations on marijuana in non-tribal areas.

Pot remains illegal on federal lands, including Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest.

“Like the state of Washington and the United States, the Makah tribe is a separate sovereign,” a letter from Makah tribal authorities to tribal members said.

“We have a treaty that confirms our sovereignty and self-determination.

“A big part of that sovereignty is that state laws do not apply to the tribe and its territory.

“As a state law, I-502 could not and does not legalize marijuana within the Makah Reservation.”

Both Makah and federal law lists marijuana as a controlled substance. Possessing, using, buying and selling it is a federal crime, and a tribal crime, said Meredith Parker, general manager of the Neah Bay-based Makah tribe.

“So, on the reservation, the answer is easy: Every little bit of pot is illegal,” the notice to tribal members said.

“We will continue to follow federal law. It is part of the tribal policy as well,” said Sam Hough, Lower Elwha Klallam assistant general counsel.

“It is already a dry reservation,” Hough added.

Likewise, marijuana will not be welcome at 7 Cedars Casino, Cedars at Dungeness and other properties held by the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe.

“We believe we are on reservation/trust land held by the United States on our behalf, and since marijuana is illegal by federal law, it is illegal on our lands,” said Ron Allen, Jamestown S’Klallam tribal chairman.

The Quileute tribe, based in LaPush, also will observe federal marijuana laws, said Jackie Jacobs, Quileute spokeswoman.

The Hoh tribe is holding off a decision, said James Jaime, the tribe’s executive director.

“We don’t have a policy at this point in time,” Jaime said.

“We are waiting to see what the federal policy is in regard to the state law.”

The Washington State Liquor Control Board, charged with creating state’s marijuana regulations, added a rule that requiring notification of tribal governments if a vendor applies for a permit on tribal land.

The Yakima tribe, with the largest reservation in the state at 1.2 million acres, recently announced that marijuana sales and consumption would not be allowed on their lands.

Brian Smith, spokesman for the state Liquor Control Board said new state rules have no prohibitions against issuing permits on the Yakama reservation, but such permits would be impractical

“Why grant a license when the federal government is going to come in and take them down?” Smith asked.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jim Woods of Makah Tribe continues as EPA senior tribal policy advisor for Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
jim woods(July 30, 2013 – Seattle)   The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that Jim Woods, of the Makah Tribe in Neah Bay, Washington, will continue as the region’s Senior Tribal Policy Advisor for an additional two-year term.
Jim, or K’a’s•cak•a•b’lkh to the Makah, will continue to work with over 271 tribes in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, as part of an Intergovernmental Personnel Agreement with the Swinomish Tribe originally signed in 2011.
“I am pleased that Jim has agreed to extend his term through July 2015, and I am grateful to the Swinomish Tribe for their continuing strong support of Jim and partnership with EPA,” said Dennis McLerran, EPA Regional Administrator. “Our region has by far the largest number of tribal governments in the nation, and Jim has been key to helping us fulfill our trust responsibilities and work together to protect the resources that tribes depend on.”
“EPA has a unique relationship with tribes, as our common goal is to ensure we provide healthy and safe communities and sustainable resources in the Northwest and Alaska for today and generations to come.  As EPA’s Senior Tribal Policy Advisor, Jim carries the voices of hundreds of tribal communities and members in a meaningful way to EPA and helps both the agency and tribes find common ground to advance tribal environmental protection objectives,” said Brian Cladoosby, Chairman of the Swinomish Tribe.
Jim will continue to serve under a renewed Intergovernmental Personnel Agreement, as the senior liaison between tribes and the EPA regional office, communicating tribal perspectives, trust responsibility, sovereignty, treaty rights, and self-governance to the Regional Administrator and senior EPA management.
One of Jim’s primary responsibilities is the regional implementation of the Presidential Executive Order on Consultation and Coordination with Tribal Governments, focusing on promoting effective and meaningful government-to-government interaction with tribes in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.
Before his appointment to EPA, Jim served as Senior Policy Advisor to the Swinomish Tribe, focusing on environmental policies, natural resource policies, and treaty rights.
Jim previously led the Sustainable Resource Management division for the Makah Tribal Council.
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History Sails Full Circle as Tall Ships Escort Northwest Native Canoes

on Arel/Coastal ImagesLady Washington, left, and Hawaiian Chieftain will escort 100 canoes.

on Arel/Coastal Images
Lady Washington, left, and Hawaiian Chieftain will escort 100 canoes.

Richard Walker, Indian Country Today Media Network

The first tall ships that visited Quinault territory were harbingers of European and American empirical designs. And not all of those visits ended well.

The first European visitors were, presumably, Spanish explorers, arriving off what is now Point Grenville in the schooner Sonora on July 11, 1775 to claim the land for Spain. That visit ended with a bloody battle between Quinault men and the Spanish crew. (Quinault Nation treasurer Lawrence Ralston has a uniform emblem found on the Lower Quinault River confirmed by Spain to be of Spanish origin, circa the 1700s.)

Next came the Americans, in 1788, to trade; then the British, in 1792, to flex their claim on the area and assign British place names. The U.S. inherited Spain and Britain’s claims in the Pacific Northwest through a series of treaties between 1819 and 1846—although nobody asked the Quinaults for their thoughts on the matter. Treaties with indigenous nations and attempts to force the assimilation of the first peoples followed.

The new landing site for cedar canoes hewn by a new generation of Native carvers (Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission)
The new landing site for cedar canoes hewn by a new generation of Native carvers (Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission)


Next month, during the annual Canoe Journey, history will come full circle when the tall ships Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain escort up to 100 canoes—from First Nations in Washington and British Columbia—as they travel along the open coast from Neah Bay in Makah Nation territory to Taholah at the Quinault Indian Nation, which hosts the journey, August 1 to 6.

The Canoe Journey has “made a tremendous contribution to public education about the heritage of Native people and tribes and First Nations of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia,” Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp says. “The events have also contributed mightily to the cultural reinvigoration of Native people and the connection between Indian and non-Indian governments and communities.

“By inviting the Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain to participate in this event, protocols are being followed which were neglected by tall ships of the past. This could thus be viewed as an opportunity to help make some amends for some past transgressions. Moreover, the participation of these tall ships in this event also helps convey a message that tribal and nontribal communities choose to look forward to and work together on a collaborative basis toward common objectives.”

The Quinault Nation invited the tall ships to escort the canoes this year because 2013 is the 225th anniversary of first contact between the U.S. and the Indigenous Peoples of the Pacific Northwest. “We are very excited to be able to participate in this important cultural event,” says Les Bolton, executive director of the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority, which owns the Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain.

“2013 marks the 225th anniversary of the first contact between the newly independent United States and the rich coastal cultures of the Pacific Northwest,” says Bolton. “Since that first contact seven generations ago, our world has changed significantly. We want to encourage all people to consider where we began, where we are today, and give thought to the world we want our descendants, seven generations from now, to inherit.”

Launched in 1989 as part of the Washington State Centennial, the Lady Washington is a wooden replica of one of the first U.S.-flagged ships to visit the West Coast of North America. In 1788, the original Lady Washington arrived off the coast of what would later become Oregon to trade with the area’s Indigenous Peoples for furs, then sailed north past Quinault territory en route to Vancouver Island.

The modern Canoe Journey traces its roots to 1989, when educator Emmett Oliver of the Quinault Nation and Frank Brown of the Heiltsuk First Nation in British Columbia developed a canoe journey to be held in conjunction with the Washington State Centennial celebration. The resulting event—the Paddle to Seattle from indigenous lands in Washington and Canada—generated interest among other Northwest Coast Native peoples who wanted to revive the traditional form of travel on the ancestral marine highways. The Canoe Journey has been an annual event since 1993; the Quinault Nation last hosted in 2002.

During the journey, canoe families visit indigenous territories en route to the host destination and share their cultures. Each Canoe Journey is a logistical feat for host destinations, which provide meals and gifts to thousands of guests and host about 100 cultural presentations over a period of a week.

The journey is a feat of fitness for pullers. Pulling long distances in a canoe requires emotional, physical and spiritual fitness. Pledges to be alcohol-free, drug-free and, in many cases, smoke-free, are required. That’s had a tremendous impact on younger pullers.


Spanish emblem (circa 1700s) found in Lower Quinault River (Courtesy Lawrence Ralston)
Spanish emblem (circa 1700s) found in Lower Quinault River (Courtesy Lawrence Ralston)


Indigenous languages are spoken on the journey, particularly at the canoe landings when skippers ask hosts for permission for pullers to come ashore, and at evening ceremonies when traditional dances and songs are shared.

The journey features beautiful cedar canoes carved by a new generation of Native carvers. And the participation of Indigenous Peoples from around the world has grown each year. Among the participants in recent journeys: Ainu (an indigenous people in Japan), Native Hawaiians, Maori, Tlingit and Yupik. “Cedar canoes are deeply significant to our people,” Sharp explains. “Not only do they reflect a connection with the art and practicality of our past, they represent a statement of our commitment to sustain our values and legacies into the future. They are a living embodiment of Northwest tribal tradition, a powerful bond that strengthens our cultural, economic and environmental resolve. They are a reflection of our identity, as individuals and as nations.”

The Canoe Journey is empowering to young pullers. Courage and perseverance are learned on the water and from stories shared by elders. At the Canoe Journey skippers meeting February 23, George Adams, Nooksack, told of his grandmother’s residential school experience, how her mouth was taped shut because she refused to stop speaking her language. For his grandmother, the tape “was a badge of honor. She didn’t give up speaking her language. There are people who have stories on the journey. Listen to the stories, listen to the songs.”

The journey has done a lot to build bridges between Native and non-Native communities as well. Exposure to cultural activities associated with the journey has helped break down barriers and grow cultural understanding. “The Canoe Journey is an event that can help tell people throughout the country that the tribes are still here,” said Sharp, a lawyer and administrative law judge who is also president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. “We’re not going anywhere. We’re alive and well and we will be heard.”

There are other significant aspects of this Canoe Journey:

Restoring a Sacred Gathering Place
The landing will be at Point Grenville, Washington, where the Spanish landed in 1775 and which the British visited and named in 1792. “We want to acknowledge the historical significance of Point Grenville,” Sharp said. “Our Creator blessed our ancestors with ancient knowledge, a sacred and beautiful gathering place, a rich culture, economy, and heritage that were actively practiced at Point Grenville. After centuries of Quinault occupation, Spanish and foreign greed and a desire to lay claim to our lands led to bloodshed and war.”

In the 1930s, Quinault created a scenic park at Point Grenville. The site later became home to a U.S. Coast Guard LORAN Station. For the past three decades, Point Grenville has been vacant. For the Canoe Journey, Quinault has developed or is developing on Point Grenville beach access trails, lawns, a flag pavilion, and viewing areas. The nation is installing three carved-story poles that symbolize Quinault spirituality, sovereignty, and restoration. “This year, our generation [is] restoring the spiritual, cultural and economic significance of our sacred gathering places, starting at the most westerly point of our tribal homelands,” Sharp said. “This year, the entire world will celebrate this restoration and the beauty of our people, lands and ancestral inheritance.”

Monitoring Marine Health
Several canoes will again be outfitted with probes that collect information about water conditions: dissolved oxygen, pH levels, salinity, temperature, and turbidity. Data collected in each Canoe Journey since 2008 are being processed and mapped by the U.S. Geological Survey to help identify signs of climate change, impacts from development, and changes in the levels and types of nutrients and pollutants washing into the ocean.

It’s the melding of one of the oldest technologies on the sea—the carved cedar canoe—with some of the newest technology. Each stainless-steel probe is two feet long and two-and-a-half inches in diameter, and trails the canoe at a depth of six feet, according to the survey. On the trailing edge of the probe are sensors that collect water-quality data every 10 seconds. The data are transmitted to a data logger on board the canoe, and the latitude and longitude is automatically recorded via global positioning system. “When we are able to so capably use traditional tools to achieve such contemporary objectives, a special connection is made that underscores the significance of knowing and understanding tribal history,” Sharp says.

“That is a lesson I hope people will learn from the journey—that there are solutions to the challenges we face today in the annals of our history. Challenges, such as climate change, ocean acidification, water pollution and even social and economic challenges can all be far more easily resolved if we choose to learn from history. Even with today’s computer technology, so many answers to the challenges we all face today are in the wisdom of the ages.”

Honoring Those in Uniform
The theme of this year’s journey is Honoring Our Warriors, a tribute to Native men and women in uniform. “We feel it is important for people everywhere to know that tribal members have been first to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces,” Sharp said, and at a greater number per capita than any other ethnic group. “They deserve every honor we can bestow on them.”

For further information on the 2013 Canoe Journey, visit