Revisiting the range of imagination from emerging Tulalip artists

Above: Kamaya Craig, 1st place – Culture. Seventh grader at 10th Street Middle School.  “This is wall hanging showing my family symbol. Its two salmon with an egg between them. The techniques I used were lots of cutting, for the details, ironing and sewing.”

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

Every year, around this time, hundreds of artistically inclined students stroll through the makeshift art gala at Tulalip’s Youth Center to experience the annual Native American Student Art Festival. Accompanied by their families, friends and teachers, the 1st to 12th grade student-artists wow festival attendees and judges with their imaginative creations.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 completely derailed the 2020 Art Festival. Social distancing protocols and stay-home directives wouldn’t allow for the student showcase to happen. Our emerging Tulalip artists are still worth celebrating, so we now bring you a flashback to the best of last year’s art extravaganza.

Jacynta Miles, 1st place – Culture. Freshman at Heritage High School. “My paddle represents the layers of life. At the top is the sun, then Earth represented by a beach and the ocean, followed by a mermaid, and then finally the salmon. The colors are bright at the top and get darker the further down you go just like in nature.”

“The Art Festival is an opportunity for each student to express themselves in a positive way. It is the largest community event we have where we get to showcase our Native students,” explained Jessica Bustad, Positive Youth Development Manager. “It’s the pride each of the students have in their artwork, their parents and community members coming together to support our children that make this event so great.”

For more than two decades now, Marysville School District Indigenous Education has partnered with the Tulalip Tribes to dedicate an evening to the art scene created by emerging Tulalip artists and other Native students within the district. The Festival gives these young people an opportunity to show off their creative talents to the community, while getting a chance to take home a coveted 1st place ribbon.

Artists were able to win 1st, 2nd or 3rd place, plus honorable mention, in a variety of artistic mediums. Categories included culture, drawing, painting, writing, mixed media, sculpture, digital art, and pure heart. The top four from each grade and category not only received a ceremonial ribbon as recognition for their talents, but a monetary prize as well.

Taylee Warbus, 1st place – Painting. Sophomore at Lake Stevens High School. “I wanted to put something together that represented a lot things I really care about and love. I love looking at the stars, which is represented with the night sky. I just love  succulents and learning about them, so I added a lot of plants. The clock read 5:17 that represents my birthday. It’s definitely a patchwork painting with lots of colors that shows a variety of my passions.”

The 2019 Native Art Festival received a whopping 700+ submissions, with the most popular category being painting. There were many young artists who showed off their diverse talents by submitting artwork in as many categories as possible. Taylee Warbus and Samara Davis were two such overachievers who claimed top honors in multiple categories.

“It was amazing to see just how talented our Native students are. The new ideas and concepts they come up with every year continue to surprise us judges,” marveled Native Advocate Doug Salinas. “Every kid has the capability to be an artist because their imagination has no limits.”

Adrian Jefferson, 1st place – Drawing. 7th grader.

Native culture and art are often thought of us intrinsically tied together or, in the case of Savannah Black Tomahawk and Lilly Jefferson, sewn together. According to their mothers, neither Savannah nor Lilly had ever sewn before prior to creating traditional ribbon skirts to enter in the Festival. By putting a modern twist on a traditional concept, Savannah’s Disney princess skirt and Lilly’s metallic blue with shimmery pink ribbons both received high praise and earned an additional ribbon – 2nd place and 1st place, respectively.

Definitely worth mentioning is young Emiliano Benavides-Cheer, a 3rd grader at Liberty Elementary, who was well ahead of his time by created an educational digital art piece all about Killer Bees. Who knew that a year later the ominous murder hornet would be a trending topic on national news platforms? Emiliano, that’s who!

Catherine Velasquez, 2nd place – Mixed Media. 5th grader at Grace Academy.

“As coordinating staff, we look at every single piece of artwork and recognize how much work each student puts in. Some art pieces show real vulnerability in the students, they are showing themselves and expressing their thoughts, feelings and dreams,” added Jessica. “It is also very gratifying when students are already coming to us with their creative ideas for future Art Festivals.”

 Emiliano Benavides-Cheer, 2nd place – Digital Art. Third grader at Liberty Elementary.

National Museum of the American Indian highlights

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

In the heart of Washington D.C. is the world’s largest museum complex, known as the Smithsonian Institution. Among the many museums, libraries and research centers that make up this diverse information paradise is the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). 

According to the museum’s website, NMAI cares for one of the world’s most expansive collections of Native artifacts, including culturally significant objects, photographs, treaties, and media covering the entire Western Hemisphere. From its indigenous landscaping to its wide-ranging exhibitions, everything is designed in collaboration with tribes and tribal communities, giving visitors from around the world the sense and spirit of Native America.

“I feel a profound and increasing gratitude to the founders of this museum,” said museum director Kevin Gover (Pawnee). “We are here as a result of the farsighted and tireless efforts of Native culture warriors who demanded that the nation respect and celebrate the contributions that Native people have made to this country and to the world.”

Huichol miniature violin and bow, 2000
Jalisco or Nayarit State, Mexico
Wood, glass beads, beeswax, vegetal fiber and nylon monofilament.

Beadwork

The earliest beads were made from shell, stone, bone, ivory, and seeds. By 1492, Venetian factories were producing glass beads that early explorers and traders carried all over the world. Native people saw brightly colored glass beads as prized possessions and eagerly traded for them. Large “pony beads” are found on Great Plains clothing before the 1850s. The tiniest beads, called “seed beads,” become popular after about 1855.

Beads could be worn as necklaces, stitched to clothing, or woven into strips. They often replaced earlier decorative materials such as porcupine quills or painted designs. Since women learned beadwork from their elders, clothing and other items often matched distinctive traditional tribal styles.

Color preferences, influenced by the symbolic meanings ascribed to certain colors, varied regionally. In the western Arctic, for example, blue beads were thought to have great cultural importance.

Today, beadwork continues to delight us, with both women and men creating traditional clothing and regalia as well as innovations such as beaded neckties, baseball caps, and high-top sneakers. All are worn by both Native people and non-Native admirers of this unique American creation.

Cradleboard, 1995-2001
Ardena M. Whiteshield (Cheyenne), 1939-2001
Wood, glass beads, hide, metal tacks and cotton cloth.

Native Glass

In the early 1960s, innovations in glass furnaces brought glass-blowing out of the industrial settings and into individuals studios and workshops, as well as Native art schools. Since then, dozens of Native artists have created works in blown, cast, etched, fused, and electroplated glass, stretching the boundaries of Native Art.

How Raven stole the Sun, 2003
Emil Her Many Horses (Oglala Lakota)
The sun figures prominently in Native American ceremonies, creation stories, and art. This sculpture is based on the Tlingit story, “How Raven stole the Sun.” In the story, Raven releases the sun and the moon from boxes held by a chief. This gives light to the people and created day and night.
Yup’ik Mask, ca. 1905
Wood, feathers, paint and cotton string.
Kuskokwim River, Alaska
Yup’ik people used masks as prayers to ask for what they needed, including good weather and plenty of animals to hunt. This mask was intended to heal someone who was sick.
Allies in War, Partners in Peace, 2004
Edward E. Hlavka (Oneida Nation)
This bronze statue honors the alliance between the Oneida Indian Nation and the United States during the American Revolution. General George Washington stands alongside the Oneida diplomat Oskanondonha and Polly Cooper, an Oneida woman who came to the aid of Washington’s starving troops at Valley Forge in 1777-78.

National Museum of the American Indian highlights

Pontiac hood ornament, 1951
Pontiac was an Ottawa war chief who defeated the British in the 1760s. The city near Detroit is named for him, as was the General Motors brand of cars, which featured a hood ornament in the form of an Indian-head profile. During the 1950s its design was meant to suggest jet planes and rockets. The last Pontiac rolled off the assembly line in 2010.

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

In the heart of Washington D.C. is the world’s largest museum complex, known as the Smithsonian Institution. Among the many museums, libraries and research centers that make up this diverse information paradise is the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). 

According to the museum’s website, NMAI cares for one of the world’s most expansive collections of Native artifacts, including culturally significant objects, photographs, treaties, and media covering the entire Western Hemisphere. From its indigenous landscaping to its wide-ranging exhibitions, everything is designed in collaboration with tribes and tribal communities, giving visitors from around the world the sense and spirit of Native America.

“I feel a profound and increasing gratitude to the founders of this museum,” said museum director Kevin Gover (Pawnee). “We are here as a result of the farsighted and tireless efforts of Native culture warriors who demanded that the nation respect and celebrate the contributions that Native people have made to this country and to the world.”

Tribal flags across Native America
There are currently 574 federally recognized tribes. Hanging proudly from the vaulted ceilings of NMAI are the illustrative flags from each tribe, including the iconic killer whale representing the Tulalip Tribes.
Muscogee bandolier bag, ca. 1814
This bandolier bag is said to have been captured at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, the climatic clash  of the Muscogee civil war of  1813. An estimated eight-hundred men died.
Bald eagle feather and flute, ca. 2000
In November 2002, U.S. Navy Commander John Bennett Harrington – a member of the Chickasaw Nation – made history as the first Native American to board the Space Shuttle Endeavour. On his journey, Commander Herrington carried a flute made by Cherokee tribal member Jim Gilliland, a decorated eagle feather beaded by a Yankton Sioux citizen Philip Lane, and a Chickasaw Nation flag.
Both significant cultural items, the flute and eagle feather travelled to space with Commander Harrington. After arriving at the International Space Station, he placed both items within the airlock where they floated together in the zero gravity environment.
Pipe tomahawk, ca. 1788
This pipe tomahawk bears two incised British flags and the names “Bowles” and “Tustonackjajo.” It is thought that William Augustus Bowles, the self-appointed director-general of the Muscogee Nation, presented the tomahawk to Muscogee leader Tustenuggee Hajo.

Tribal members get creative during coronavirus

Meet the mother-daughter team making  powerful and educational jewelry

By Kim Kalliber, photos courtesy of 

Michelle Myles 

Well known around Tulalip for teaching Lushootseed, the traditional Coast Salish language, tribal member Michelle Myles is also recognized for her beautiful artwork. Some of her hand-crafted paddles have been hot ticket items at the Annual Tulalip Boys & Girls Club Auction, where she often donates them to benefit the younger generation. 

Lately, Michelle and her teenage daughter Jacynta have been honing their artistic skills on a new craft; Native earrings. Constructed from wood and hand painted, many of the earrings feature Lushootseed words. 

The mother-daughter duo has created a bright space in what many consider a gloomy time. During the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, their colorful designs shared on social media give local and non-local residents something exciting to view and even purchase. As Michelle says, “We’re not going to be cooped up forever, get your sexy ready now,”

Michelle agreed to an interview with syeceb staff. The following is an inside look to their craft and how to purchase their earrings. 

SYS: What are your artistic backgrounds?

MM: My artistic background stems back to Jerry Jones and his training in 2001. He taught our [Language] department how to carve paddles and I’ve been dabbling ever since. Jacynta has expressed an interest in the artwork and she has always been willing to learn. She has a better eye for what might work and her youth brings a creativity that transcends traditional boundaries. 

SYS: What inspired you to make earrings?

MM: To be honest, Covid-19 inspired me to make earrings. When the shutdown started, I was looking for something simple to do with the kids. I have been experimenting in different mediums and shaved cedar was something that I had dabbled in. When we first did it, we hadn’t thought about earrings as much as just doing small crafts. We finished the first couple, Jacynta got our jewelry kit and suggested we make earrings and pendants.

SYS: How long does each pair of earrings take to make? 

MM: The earrings that I’ve started promoting take about an hour each. Some of the other mediums were experimenting with take a couple of days each.

SYS: Do most of the people buying your earrings understand the language? Are some learning first-hand from you?

MM: So far, all of our earrings have been sold to tribal members. Most of these women recognize the symbology and language that we’re using. For example, the Missing Murdered Indigenous Women campaign has grown in strength thanks to women like [activist] Debbie Parker, who has passionately championed on behalf of our sisters who have been neglected or forgotten. We wanted to follow her lead in the promotion of strong Indigenous women.

SYS: How has art helped you through the stay-at-home situation? How has your culture helped? 

MM: The time at home has allowed me to actively participate in my kids’ life, which I appreciate. As a teacher, I’m typically busy during their education, so it’s nice to be around for their curriculum. 

 My culture has always kept me grounded. We’re so westernized as Tulalips that we treat this hiatus as an intrusion. I think of it as our ancestors giving us a hiatus to reflect. That’s why I appreciate my colleagues like Thomas Williams, who are using this time to educate our people on traditional remedies and healing.

SYS: Have you noticed an upswing on artistic and interactive posts on social media?

MM: I don’t really see a difference online in artwork. Most of the people I’m following are full-time artists who are simply continuing to promote their craft. The difference that I see is in my own time to try out things that I spend the day thinking about, but never have the time to pursue. 

SYS: What advice can you offer to those that may be going stir crazy?

MM: For people who may be going stir crazy, I encourage them to set life goals and explore ways to accomplish them. I want to be a better artist and historian, so I’ve been spending my time learning about our history, and experimenting in different mediums. I have to listen to [my partner] Lee constantly complaining about the stock market and politics, which takes up way more time than I’d care to admit. 

SYS: How do we purchase your earrings and pendants? 

MM: All of my art business has been conducted through Facebook. I’ve been so successful through word of mouth that it’s never made sense to run a website. I have my hands in so many different things, art wise, that I would not have even got to this if it wasn’t for the hiatus from work. 

You can find Michelle on Facebook at Michelle Myles, where she posts items for sale and how to purchase them. She also wishes everyone to stay safe and healthy. 

If you have artwork, stories, article ideas or photos you’d like to share with us, please email Kim Kalliber at kkalliber@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov or Micheal Rios at mrios@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov. 

Native American community quilt show comes to Tulalip

By Cullen Salinas-Zackuse, Tulalip News; photos courtesy of Colette Keith, NWIC Tulalip Site manager

On February 11-13 Northwest Indian College Tulalip campus is hosting a quilt show called Humble Stitches, Generous Quilts from Indian Country. It will be held at the Tulalip admin building from 9am – 4pm and will feature quilting styles from five tribal regions, including Northeast, South East, Southwest, Northwest, and Plains. There will be over 30 unique quilts on display with noticeable traits to their respectable region of influence. Whether it is Coast Salish design with trigons, crescents, and circles, a plains lone star quilt, a Northeastern woodland ribbon flower design, a Southwest Hopi pinwheel, or a Seminole patchwork style, all were beautifully crafted with a labor of love. 

Traditionally, quilts in all regions are to be gifted to loved ones or someone you want to honor. A symbolism of generosity and respect that can be gifted during ceremonies and gatherings. Tulalip has a long history of crafting and sharing during community gatherings. In 1950, at what people in the local area called the thrift shop at the bottom basement of an old gathering community hall is where a lot of the traditions of quilting were passed down. The tradition is being carried on at NWIC Tulalip campus where students and community members gather together and craft quilts that will soon be displayed for everyone to marvel at the workmanship.

Colette Keith, NWIC Tulalip Site manager, explains how the quilt show came to be. “When we received a grant [for the quilting class] from the Stillaguamish Tribe, we then attended the Everett Quilt Show two springs ago. I said, ‘Why don’t we have our own show?’ So, I asked the staff and students and they were excited about the idea. ”

The Tulalip Tribes contributed to the showcase by donating a quilting machine, space for the quilt show to be held, and informative catalogues for attendees. With the generous donations and hard work put in to make this vision come to reality, the anticipation level for the quilting showcase is rising. 

“This is big! There has not been a show even close to one like this since the University of New Mexico did one 20 years ago. And they are a large university, we are one small humble, but extremely talented and resourceful, satellite campus. As we get closer to the Feb 11th show date, people are starting to realize just what a significant deal this is,” Colette exclaimed.

Anyone in the community can submit their own quilting work to the show. It must be submitted to the Tulalip NWIC site by January 31. There will also be a free quilt raffle and free admission to the general public.

Tulalip Tribes Administration Building, 6406 Marine Drive, Tulalip WA 98271

Tulalip weavers share their craft with the community

By Cullen Salinas-Zackuse, Tulalip News

On Sunday December 15th, at the Tulalip Resort Casino, fifteen of Tulalip’s cedar weavers came together to teach the community how to weave. They shared their expertise and enjoyed their time teaching traditional ways of making cedar baskets, headbands, dolls, jewelry and many other cedar creations. It was the first time this many Tulalip weavers came together to enrich the community with cultural activity of this nature.

“All the teachers have a lot of teachings and history,” said event coordinator,Virginia Jones, on how the weavers showed the importance of carrying on these skills for all the generations after us. 

Weaver Clarissa Johnny talked about how she learned from Anna Jefferson (Lummi) how to peel and process the cedar, and how to cure it. “She [Anna] was taught how to respect the forest and pray before taking anything from the cedar tree. Pray before you leave and thank the cedar tree for giving up part of its life for us”. 

One of the younger weavers, Shylee Burke, said that she “learned from her aunties and it is passed down from generation to generation”, because she was always around it as a child. It wasn’t until later in life that she said learned how to “put her hands to work,” learning how to weave. 

Overall, everyone who attended took away something from this event. Whether it was learning how to carry on the culture or different weaving styles, it was a fun way to come together and share culture with the community. 

Stock up on holiday spirit at Tulalip’s own Native Bazaar

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

 Hundreds of visitors journeyed to the Tulalip Reservation on Sunday, November 17 to browse handmade gifts, purchase one-of-kind items made by local artists and stock up on holiday spirit at the annual Native Bazaar. The Tulalip Youth Center hosted the place to be for those in the market for truly unforgettable gifts and Native décor. 

The Bazaar was jam-packed with unique goodies galore including beaded jewelry, cedar creations of all varieties, custom artwork and much, much more. Filled to the brim with a variety of vendors, all of whom were Tulalip tribal members, customers had no shortage of buying options just in time for the holiday season.

Coordinated by Tammy Taylor, who has organized the event for ten years in row, the annual shopping experience combines traditional Tulalip culture with the best of the holiday season. There was something for everyone, even those who simply wanted to fill their bellies with frybread and smoked salmon. 

“This is such a great event,” said Tammy. “We have over 30 vendors setup. I try to find young artists who are willing to sell their art, and encourage them to participate. Teaching our people to be entrepreneurs at a young age has so many benefits.”

Eleven-year-old Jaylynn Parks is a prime example of what happens when an energetic youth is filled with the entrepreneurial spirt. With her grandmother’s help, she baked about 60 mountain huckleberry and pineapple cupcakes that were a major hit as they quickly sold out. Jaylynn also came prepared with her classic Roosevelt Popper and switched up her vending style from cupcakes to freshly popped popcorn.

“Everyone really liked my cupcakes. [So far] I’ve sold like 150 bags of popcorn,” beamed young Jaylynn while also sharing she has big plans with her Bazaar profits. “I’m going to redecorate my bedroom. If I can buy anything it would be a big pink bed!”

Another spirited youth who made the most of her passion for art and crafting was Catherine Velasquez. “I made hair barrettes with little flowers and bells and bows,” she said while sharing a station with her family. “I sold, like, quite a few. My first few I made took like 10 minutes or so to make, but once I got going I was able to make them really quick. I helped make cookies, muffins, and ferry ornaments. The best part of being here is hanging out with family.”

Several stations at the bazaar showcased tradition teachings that have been passed down from one generation to the next. One such example was Keeta Sheldon and her daughter Jamie who are well-known in cedar weaving circles. Their expertise with gift giving cedar is as boundless as their artistic imaginations, exemplified by their innovative creations. 

“Weaving is a good hobby because there are so many styles and so much that can be made that you won’t ever be bored,” said Keeta. She’s passed on her passion for weaving to all of her daughters and together they teach classes in the local area. “I’ve been teaching off and on now for 17 years at the college and museum. We like to teach what we know so that it stays in our culture.”

The 2019 Native Bazaar will return to the Youth Center on December 7 and 8, from 9:00am – 4:00pm, providing yet another two-day opportunity to enjoy delicious holiday treats while stocking up on holiday gifts. All visitors are welcome to support their local artists.

“I want to thank the community for coming out and supporting all of our tribal artists,” said coordinator Tammy Taylor. “It’s so beautiful to witness because we don’t have many places available to sell our stuff, but here we have a good mixture of Native and non-Native visitors who truly appreciate the skill and craftsmanship that goes into authentic Native art.”

Tulalip poles preserve and continue ancestral teachings

William Shelton pole in Everett, Wa. Photo courtesy of Hibulb Cultural Center.

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

On display in public buildings throughout the Tulalip Reservation are beautiful works of traditional Tulalip art. Paintings, drums, paddles, masks and carvings created by Tribal artists cover the walls of government offices and local schools. Some of those establishments are also home to large wooden sculptures carved from cedar that depict insightful stories passed through the generations, many welcoming guests to their space of business, healing or learning. At certain places, such as the Tulalip longhouse, you may even spot a carving with a family crest or symbol in the design. 

Kelly Moses Story Pole at Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary opens a conversation for Tulalip youth and provides an opportunity to learn about the culture while attending school.

“There are several different types of poles,” said Tulalip Carver, Tony Hatch. “Story poles, house posts, spirit poles, family crest poles. There’s clan poles; if you belong to a bear, wolf, seal, otter clan, they all have their own symbol and that’s what they put on their house posts. The house posts are the ones you see if you went into our longhouse, on the inside. Each one of those poles mean something different.”

Kaya, an Elder Salish woman holds a cedar basket filled with clams, welcomes guests to the Hibulb Cultural Center by James Madison.

The Tulalip people have a long, rich history with the cedar tree. For centuries, the Tribe’s ancestors utilized the tree’s resources by carving canoes, paddles, rattles and masks as well as weaving baskets, headbands and clothing from the sacred cedar. Although today Indigenous art is admired for its beauty from an outsider’s perspective, most pieces were intentionally created as tools for everyday necessity and for cultural and spiritual work. 

 Family and clan crests have been carved into house posts since time immemorial, specifying designated areas at the longhouses. An easy-to-spot indicator of a house post is the grooved indent at the top, intended to support the beams of the longhouse as house posts were initially apart of the building’s infrastructure. House posts are a common carving amongst Northwest tribes and can be viewed in person at a number of locations on the reservation such the Hibulb Cultural Center, the Don Hatch Youth Center and the Tulalip Longhouse. 

Also widely constructed by the tribes of this region are welcome poles. These sculptures are generally placed at the entrance of buildings, extending a friendly invite to visitors. They typically feature an Indigenous person in the design, highlighting a certain aspect to the tribal way of life. Welcome poles are prominent throughout Tulalip, with pieces at the entrance of the Tulalip Administration Building and the Betty J. Taylor Early Learning Academy. 

The Storytelling Poles at the Betty J. Taylor Early Learning  Academy was a collective project by the Tulalip Carvers and tells the story of the salmon people.

“Those are storytelling poles at Early Learning,” stated Tulalip Carver, Steve Madison. “We put those there for a purpose, for the little kids. The poles are carved in the shape of a salmon. On the salmon there’s a woman and a man and they are both storytellers. That’s why they were carved, so our kids will always know the stories about our people, the salmon. Because the salmon encompasses the spirit of our people.”

Perhaps the most recognizable welcome pole is the monumental post, created by Joe Gobin, which stands in the lobby of the Tulalip Resort Casino. With arms reaching out to the people, the pole welcomes newly arrived guests to the elegant hotel; a great photo opportunity for those receiving the Tulalip experience for the first time. Located directly at each side of the welcome pole are two story poles; a gambling pole representing the traditional game of slahal, also created by Joe Gobin, and a story pole that features an eagle and a seawolf designed by James Madison. 

The Tulalip Story Pole, by James Madison, located at the entrance of the Tulalip Resort Casino, features spiritual Northwest animal figures such as the bear, sea wolf, half-man half-wolf, and the eagle.

“There’s differences between house posts and story poles,” explains James. “A lot of people don’t know where a totem pole came from, or a story pole. They don’t know that we didn’t do that here, traditionally. But we continue it because William Shelton created it for our people, to keep our culture alive. They’re the stories of our families, about our people, and they hold the information of who we are and what our people went through; the history, knowledge and spiritual side of it. Joe Gobin and I decided to follow that William Shelton look but modernize it, refine the carvings and bring it up to date. You’ll see that high relief in our carvings. It’s a unique style and something that Shelton created, he was a pioneer in that way. It’s our way to pay respect to him as a carver.”

At a time when the Indigenous population was enduring assimilation efforts by the U.S. government, the last chief of Tulalip, William Shelton, made it his mission to preserve the traditional Salish way of life. By cunningly requesting approval to formally honor the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliot, Shelton received permission to construct the Tulalip Longhouse on the shore of the bay. Due to his dedication, the people were able to gather once a year at the longhouse to take part in a night of culture as well as reflect and continue the teachings of those ancestors who came before them. 

Drawing inspiration from Alaskan Natives, as well as incorporating his own heritage, Shelton created the very first story pole in 1912 that was later erected at the Tulalip boarding school in 1913. The unique pole caught the attention of the masses and Shelton story poles began to pop up in local communities. The city of Everett, Seattle Yacht Club, Washington State Capitol, Woodland Park Zoo, and a number of parks throughout the nation commissioned his story poles and as time moved forward, colonizers eventually switched from condemning Native artwork to collecting it and his work was in high-demand.

William Shelton’s gas station and Totem Pole Camp. Photo courtesy of Hibulb Cultural Center.

 In 2013, a William Shelton story pole returned to the Pacific Northwest after standing at Krape Park in Freeport, Illinois for almost seventy years. The pole was taken down due to damage from weather over the years and the thirty-seven foot pole was sent to the Burke Museum. Today, the pole is in possession of the Burke and contained in storage off-site with plans of restoration in the near future.

“The William Shelton story pole is an important piece of Salish, and more specifically, Tulalip history,” explained Kathryn Bunn-Marcuse, Burke Museum Curator of Northwest Native Art. “Shelton’s story poles brought oral histories and valued stories into monumental form, anchoring Tulalip history into these permanent markers. He did this during the years in which governmental and educational policies were aimed at erasing Indigenous languages, customs, and knowledge.”

William Shelton and family. Photo courtesy of Hibulb Cultural Center.

In his lifetime, Shelton constructed a total of sixteen story poles that were raised at various locations to help educate newcomers about Tulalip culture. His efforts helped bridge the gap between Natives and non-Natives. Shelton found ways to feed the non-Indigenous population knowledge about the heritage of his people in small doses, subtly squeezing in traditional stories, language and songs through his art. In addition to the story poles, Shelton gifted the world two publications and a better understanding of the Coast Salish lifeways. 

Tessa Campbell, Lead Curator of the Hibulb Cultural Center has been on the search for Shelton poles since the museum’s opening. Tessa and her team have recovered and restored, or are in the process of restoring, several poles after successfully tracking them down through Shelton’s correspondence letters. Unfortunately, due to decades passing by, a few poles were taken down, only to never be seen again. However, she intends to continue pursuing the poles until all sixteen are accounted for. 

“We credit William Shelton for coming up with the idea of the story pole,” Tessa expressed. “There weren’t story poles around before William Shelton, but there were welcome poles and house posts. He saw the story pole as a way to preserve our history. I compare it to a book; people preserve their family history by writing, he did it through carving. For his first pole, he went to the elders and got their stories, and he carved each story into the pole. So, each figure is like a chapter of a book.”

 Another set of carvings that held significant value to the people of Tulalip were the gateway poles. Over forty years ago, the entryways to the reservation were marked by two story poles and connected by a canoe carving overhead. Now fondly missed by the older generations of the community, the carvings were cut down by non-Natives of neighboring towns who were upset with the Boldt Decision in 1974.  

“I remember my grandpa (Frank Madison) used to talk about the poles that were out here, the two upright poles and a canoe over the top and everyone used to drive underneath it,” James reflects. “That was an identifiable icon for our tribe way back when. A long time ago, something happened between the people of Marysville and some people of Tulalip. The Marysville people came over and chopped it down with a chainsaw. It’s a harsh story but its history – it’s what happened. I always had that story in the back of my mind. My grandpa always wanted to recreate it. I’m on that same path, so hopefully some day they let me recreate that out of a different material, out of bronze or cement. That way our people can have that to be proud of because we were all raised knowing that arch was there back in the day, the two of them one at the beginning of the rez and the one at the end.”

William Shelton and every Tulalip artist since his time have excelled at preserving and continuing their ancestral teachings. By passing on the tradition and the knowledge that comes with it, they have carved quite the story for the future generations of Tulalip as well as the history of the generations who came prior. 

Tulalip Pole at Tulalip Heritage H.S., by Kelly Moses.

“Starting the little ones out while they’re young is important,” said James. “People like me; we don’t know any different. I was doing this before I can remember. Starting the youth early is important to keeping this part of our culture alive. Anybody can just pick it up and learn, but the knowledge of the work to go along with the skill is important. I was very fortunate to have my grandpa and my dad there to teach me that information. Honestly, you can teach anybody to carve or draw, but it’s the information that goes with it, putting your spirit and soul into it, making it come alive, making it Indian – that’s what I think is important.”