Learn about Chief Seattle and his tribe in a pilgrimage to new museum

A new $6 million tribal museum on the Kitsap Peninsula tells the story of the people and culture that produced a man named Seattle.

Originally published January 26, 2013 at 7:00 PM

By Brian J. Cantwell

Seattle Times travel writer

Anybody new to Seattle might wonder about the city’s name. It’s not like New York, named after a place in the “old country,” or Madison, named for a dead president.

Seattle is named for a peace-loving Indian chief — a little classier than Chicago, derived from a native word for wild garlic.

When you’ve been here long enough to be settled in and have a favorite coffee order, it’s time to learn more about your hometown’s heritage. Make a ferry-ride pilgrimage to the Kitsap Peninsula, to the winter home and final resting place of the city’s namesake, Chief Seattle.

And now’s a good time to go, because the chief’s tribe, the Suquamish, has opened a handsome new museum where you can learn all about Chief Seattle’s people and their culture.

One surprise: The chief himself gets a conspicuously modest mention.

A Red Hat Society group from Poulsbo learns about a 300-year-old canoe hoisted by sculpted figures of tribal people at the new Suquamish Museum.
Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times

The 9,000-square-foot, $6 million tribal museum, which opened in September a few hundred feet from the chief’s grave in the village of Suquamish, replaces a well-respected museum dating to the 1980s.

In part with newfound wealth from its Clearwater Casino, the tribe hired Storyline Studio of Seattle to design new exhibits, and Mithun Architects created a stained-wood building surrounded by native plantings of sword fern, wild currant and cedar.

Inside, it’s a gleaming example of modern museum concepts with a topical “less is more” orientation that doesn’t overwhelm. A single, compact hall showcases artifacts from tribal archives, or even from contemporary tribal members’ attics or family rooms (giving the sense that this is truly “living history”).

In the permanent exhibit, “Ancient Shores — Changing Tides,” simple island-like displays communicate large themes:

• “Teachings of Ancestors” includes a bone sewing needle and a cedar-root basket from the site of Old Man House, the longhouse on a nearby beach where Chief Seattle spent much of his life.

• “Spirit and Vision” has a mystical Tamanowas Stick, a personal-spirit symbol usually buried with a person, and a cedar mask with wild eyebrows and blushing cheeks.

• “Gifts from Land and Water” includes, among other things, a utilitarian clam-digging stick and a mean-looking wooden club used to kill salmon.

• “Shelter, Clothing and Tools” displays old and new, such as a dress astoundingly made of shredded cedar alongside a championship jacket from the 1984 national Indian Slo-Pitch Tournament.

• “Opportunity and Enterprise” are represented by 21 baskets of cedar bark, historically used for gathering clams and berries. (The modern representation of enterprise might be the tribal casino, which collects many “clams” from its patrons.)

• “Wisdom and Understanding” gives a puzzlingly brief nod to Chief Seattle. Context comes from this narrative: “(He) is perhaps the most famous of tribal leaders from the Salish Sea. But for the Suquamish people he was just one of many admired leaders throughout our history, each celebrated for their own unique skills.”

Six other leaders from across the years get the spotlight, with artifacts such as the gavel of Grace Duggan, the tribe’s first judge.

Why not dedicate more space to the leader for whom the big city is named?

“I think that the tribe is consciously trying to move away from (Chief Seattle) being the beginning, middle and end of the tribe,” explained museum director Janet Smoak. “It’s in no way a reflection of less esteem or less respect.”

Exhibits briefly reference Chief Seattle’s famous 1854 speech when he played a key role in treaty negotiations as his people were moved to reservations (see the speech’s full text on the tribe’s website at www.suquamish.nsn.us; search for “speech”). A peaceable man in tune with the Earth, he noted with melancholy that “my people are ebbing away like a fast receding tide that will never flow again.” Yet he also delivered a burning message that his people’s spirits will forever inhabit this land.

Something the museum does well: a historical multimedia production, creatively projected from above onto three child-level platforms, showing happy times — old-time salmon roasts — and less happy, when tribal children forcibly attended military-type schools after Teddy Roosevelt declared America “would make good citizens of all the Indians.”

The museum’s trumping centerpiece is a carved canoe, more than 300 years old, used in the 1989 Paddle to Seattle, the first of a now-annual series of intertribal-canoe journeys around the Salish Sea. Hoisting it are six sculpted figures representing the Suquamish from ancient times to present, including two sea otters “from before the great changer came and made people into people and animals into animals,” Smoak explained, citing the kind of beliefs that defined the tribe.

Closer to the man

If you want to feel closer to the man Seattle, head a short ways down South Street to the cemetery adjacent to St. Peter’s Catholic Mission, circa 1904.

Reflecting varying spellings of both his name and that of his tribe, based on changing interpretations of the native language, a white marble marker is inscribed “Seattle, Chief of the Suguampsh and Allied tribes, died June 7, 1866, The firm friend of the whites, and for him the City of Seattle was named by its founders.” Below that, the other name by which he was commonly known: “Sealth.”

Here you’ll see more plainly how the tribe honors him, in the form of significant improvements made to the gravesite in 2009 with $200,000 plus in grants split between the tribe and the city of Seattle. Flanking the stone are beautifully carved 12-foot cedar “story posts” that highlight moments from the chief’s life, such as his childhood sighting of Capt. George Vancouver’s exploration ships in1792.

Also added was a retaining wall etched in the native Lushootseed language and in English with messages such as “The soil is rich with the life of our kindred.” A wheelchair-friendly path connects to the parking lot, and visitors may rest on benches shaped like Suquamish canoes.

Ending your journey

Walk through the village to see more changes new money has brought to Suquamish, such as the charmingly named House of Awakened Culture, a waterfront community center devoted to such activities as classes in language, weaving and carving.

Browse native art at Rain Bear Studio or grab lunch at Bella Luna Pizzeria, a rub-elbows nine-table eatery perched on pilings over the waterfront.

Better yet, on a sunny day, pack a lunch to Old Man House Park, historic site of the chief’s longhouse, five minutes away. Sit on a log and take in the view that Chief Seattle’s people still love: narrow and scenic Agate Passage on one side, and on the other a panorama of snowy mountains across diamond-glinting waves of the salty sound.

In its day, this beach was where a native leader could take in all of his world, or all of it that mattered.

Brian J. Cantwell: 206-748-5724 or bcantwell@seattletimes.com




If you go

The land of Chief Seattle

Source, ESRI TeleAtlas
Source, ESRI TeleAtlas


From Seattle, take Washington State Ferries from Pier 52 to Bainbridge Island. Follow Highway 305 north toward Poulsbo. After the Agate Passage bridge, take the first right to Suquamish Way. In 1.2 miles, turn left at Division Avenue and then immediately right on South Street to the Suquamish Museum, 6861 N.E. South St. ($3-$5, www.suquamishmuseum.org).

Go a short distance further east on South Street to Chief Seattle’s gravesite. Continue downhill to the village center.

To reach Old Man House Park, from Suquamish Way take Division Avenue south and follow the arterial for .3 mile.

Special event

At 3 p.m. Feb. 23, the museum dedicates a new 40-foot-long wall-mounted timeline of tribal history with a lecture/presentation by Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman and Tribal Archaeologist Dennis Lewarch.


Stay at the tribe’s 85-room waterfront hotel, part of Clearwater Casino Resort. Free daily breakfast in lobby with tribal art, fireplace and expansive views. Pool, hot tub, spa. Winter rates: $169 for a view room on a weekend. 15347 Suquamish Way N.E., www.clearwatercasino.com/hotel


The casino has a buffet, cafe and a steakhouse. On Wednesday and Thursday nights, 2-for-1 specials for club members can overcrowd the buffet (the Thursday I visited, there was a 90-minute wait for a buffet table at 6 p.m.). That steered me and my wife to an endearingly corny checkered-tablecloth bistro in old-town Poulsbo, That’s-a-Some Italian Ristorante, 18881 Front St. N.E.; www.thatsasome.com.

For lunch, try the $2.50 slices at Bella Luna Pizzeria, 18408 Angeline Ave. N.E., Suquamish; www.bellalunapizza.com.

More information

Suquamish Tribe: www.suquamish.nsn.us

Kitsap Peninsula Visitor and Convention Bureau, www.visitkitsap.com

Will Endangered Seattle School Murals Be Saved?

Courtesy Andrew Morrison

Richard Walker, Indian Country Today Media Network

SEATTLE – For months, murals depicting Chief Joseph, Chief Seattle, and Natives in regalia and on horseback have been threatened with demolition—but a grassroots effort to save them may yet prove successful.

Supporters say the murals on the outside walls of the Seattle School District’s Wilson-Pacific Building are more than art. They are symbolic of the indigenous presence in the Pacific Northwest’s largest city.

Artist Andrew Morrison, Haida/Apache, painted the murals to honor the area’s Native peoples and historical leaders, such as Chief Si’ahl, the Duwamish-Suquamish leader for whom the City of Seattle is named.

Since 1974, Wilson-Pacific has been the home of American Indian Heritage School, now called American Indian Heritage Middle College High School. The school is located in Seattle’s Licton Springs neighborhood, which takes its name from the Lushootseed word “Liq’tid” (LEEK-teed), for the reddish mud of the springs that are still visible today.

So when the school was threatened with demolition to make way for construction of a new elementary and middle school—and Indian Heritage School students moved to a classroom at a nearby mall—the indigenous community rallied.

As of this writing, it appears their voices are being heard. Construction of a new elementary and middle school will still happen, but there’s a chance the walls containing the murals will be incorporated into the new school buildings. The project architect, Mahlum, has a reputation for engaging communities in the design process and incorporating into the final design those things that are important to the community. Mahlum’s previous Native-community projects include the Puyallup Tribe’s Chief Leschi School.

“The district wants to honor this work and has reached out to have ongoing discussions with the artist on how to preserve the murals,” Seattle School District project manager Eric Becker told ICTMN through the district’s public information office. “It is the district’s intent to honor the murals. Art historians have suggested several ways that this might happen. We will continue to work with the artist, design team and community to determine which option will be selected.”

Regarding how the campus’s role in Native education and racial integration might be represented in the new school buildings (as Wilson-Pacific School, it was one of the first integrated schools in Seattle), Becker said, “The School Design Advisory Team, comprised of district staff, the architect and community members, will meet to discuss all aspects of the new [elementary and middle school].”

Superintendent Jose Banda wrote in a May 10 letter to Indian Heritage School families, “a design team will be formed to look at future uses and design of the campus.” In addition, he invited applicants for a new Native American Advisory Committee to advise the district on implementing Native American education in local schools.

Tracy Rector, a filmmaker and mayor-appointed member of the Seattle Arts Commission, participated in the rallies to save Indian Heritage School and the murals.

“Andrew has rallied and inspired people to come around and support this sacred historical space for Native American families,” said Rector, Seminole/Choctaw. “It’s been powerful. It sounded like the school district was bent on tearing [the school and murals] down. This has changed the game quite a bit.”

Morrison, his brother and sister attended American Indian Heritage School, one of five local schools in which students receive more individualized attention and can take community college courses. In addition, Indian Heritage School offers culturally-based classes, and hosts an annual pow-wow, Native Youth Conference, and Native basketball tournaments. Morrison remembers the school being “the nucleus of the community.”

According to Morrison, “By 1992, the success of Indian Heritage [School] could not be denied. Not only did Indian Heritage graduate every student, but graduates also enrolled in post-secondary or vocational school.” When the school celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1994, it was noted that every student that graduated from Indian Heritage School in the two previous years enrolled in college.

In 2001, after his freshman year of college, Morrison volunteered at the school and painted the first of his 25-foot murals, often enlisting the help of students and community members.

The controversy began last year, after the district proposed a tax levy to replace the 60-year-old Wilson-Pacific buildings with a new middle school and elementary school. The Urban Native Education Alliance and the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation called for the district to renovate Wilson-Pacific, rather than demolish it, in so doing ensuring the Indian Heritage School would continue and the murals would be preserved.

The tax levy was approved by voters. The school district made plans to move Indian Heritage School students to the middle college program at Northgate Mall for the 2013-14 school year, and proposed making digital images of the murals so they could be replicated later. Morrison wouldn’t consent to the replication of his work. On March 6, the school board approved the contract for construction of a new school and recommended only a Native American honoring of Wilson-Pacific prior to its demolition.

On May 15, an Idle No More rally was held at school district offices. At the school board meeting that followed, Urban Native Education Alliance chairwoman Sarah Sense-Wilson, Oglala Lakota, said the district has withdrawn resources and removed Native instructors from Indian Heritage School over the years, “rendering the program a shell of what was once a vibrant, successful, visible program.”

Sense-Wilson said merging Indian Heritage School with the middle college program at the mall would be an act of institutional racism and classism, “assimilating Native learners and further distancing them from their cultural identity, heritage and connection with the Native community, and ultimately a poignant loss of a distinct, unique Native-focused program, which at one time bridged culture, tradition, history, Native perspective and connection with the community.”

She asked that Indian Heritage School be moved to another campus. “We do know there is space at various schools,” she said.

Dr. Carol Simmons, a retired Seattle educator, alluded that destroying a Native school program and Native art on a historically indigenous site would be a continuation of the “historical devastation and destruction of Native culture and the mistreatment of Native students in our schools.”

She said, “These murals must be preserved with dignity and not disrespectfully digitized. This important school must be treasured and not demeaned by placing it in a shopping mall.”

Other speakers included former state Sen. Claudia Kauffman, Nez Perce, who also asked that a permanent home be found for Indian Heritage School. “This is more than just an educational institution. It’s [a place] for the community in which we gather together.”

Banda said he met the day before with concerned residents about Indian Heritage School. He said he will continue to meet with Native American families and a new coalition “to discuss the next steps” regarding the school. “We truly value our relationship with our Native American families and we look forward to working with our families and community members to more effectively support our Native students,” he said.

He referred to the murals as “artifacts” and said the district will work “to ensure we protect those artifacts.”

On May 22, Morrison and Banda had a conversation and made amends; their relationship had been strained by months of protests and press coverage. Morrison is creating a portrait of the late Bob Eaglestaff, principal of Indian Heritage school in the 1980s and ’90s, as a gift to the school district. He’s also offered to paint, at his own expense, mural portraits of Geronimo and Sitting Bull at the current Indian Heritage School campus.

“Chief Seattle, Chief Joseph, Chief Geronimo and Chief Sitting Bull will complete our four directions and this will solidify a commitment between the Seattle Public Schools, the Native American community, my family, and me,” Morrison said.

For more of the story, visit andrewmorrison.org.

Artist Andrew Morrison talks to Native Youth Conference participants about the murals he painted at American Indian Heritage Middle College High School. The conference was April 16-18 at the school. The walls with the murals may be incorporated into the new school that is proposed to be built at the site. Photos courtesy Andrew Morrison.
Artist Andrew Morrison talks to Native Youth Conference participants about the murals he painted at American Indian Heritage Middle College High School. The conference was April 16-18 at the school. The walls with the murals may be incorporated into the new school that is proposed to be built at the site. Photos courtesy Andrew Morrison.


Courtesy Andrew Morrison.
Courtesy Andrew Morrison.
Courtesy Andrew Morrison.
Courtesy Andrew Morrison.
Courtesy Andrew Morrison.
Courtesy Andrew Morrison.


An Idle No More rally was held May 15 at the Seattle School District offices. Photo by Andrew Morrison.
An Idle No More rally was held May 15 at the Seattle School District offices. Photo by Andrew Morrison.
Photo by Andrew Morrison
Photo by Andrew Morrison
Students hold signs calling for the Seattle School Board to move American Indian Heritage Middle College High School to another campus. Photo by Andrew Morrison.
Students hold signs calling for the Seattle School Board to move American Indian Heritage Middle College High School to another campus. Photo by Andrew Morrison.


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/05/28/will-endangered-seattle-school-murals-be-saved-149569