Drive along Interstate 5 through Washington state north of Everett and you’ll see the extensive economic development associated with the Tulalip tribes—two casinos, a high-rise hotel, more than 100 factory outlets, and a cluster of major retailers, including Walmart and Home Depot. Construction has begun on a Cabela’s sporting goods store that will open this spring.
It is evident that the Tulalip Tribes are doing well with their hotel, casinos and commercial property, but to understand how they arrived at this point, you have to visit their new museum. Called the Hibulb Cultural Center, it opened in August and tells the tribes’ story with interactive exhibits, artifacts, photographs, artwork and videos.
The 23,000-square-foot center was built at a cost of $19 million, reflecting the tribes’ current prosperity. It’s a gorgeous building, beautifully designed and rich in detail. You enter through carved cedar doors and find two magnificent carved wood figures at the entrance to the first gallery.
The center was built with cedar, and its scent adds to the sense of freshness as you begin your tour, walking on a tile floor with a winding mosaic that extends down a long corridor, emulating the flow of the Snohomish River. The corridor, called the Hall of Canoes, has three big canoes on display against a backdrop of panels depicting water and shorelines. There are exhibit rooms, classrooms, a longhouse, research library and gift shop. Outside, visitors will soon be able to walk along trails through a wooded 50-acre natural area with a creek and wetlands.
Telling the Story
For the Tulalip tribes, the Hibulb Cultural Center is a means of preserving the tribes’ history, language and culture. For the rest of us, it offers insights into tribal life and local history.
The history is not always pretty. The arrival of white settlers introduced smallpox, chicken pox, measles, influenza and tuberculosis, wiping out half the native population.
In 1855, leaders of the Snohomish, Snoqualmie and Skykomish and allied tribes and bands signed the Treaty of Point Elliott, ceding millions of acres between Seattle and the Canadian border, and relocating tribal members to a 22,000-acre reservation along Tulalip Bay.
In 1901, the U.S. government embarked on a policy of trying to assimilate Native Americans into the rest of the population. At the Tulalip Indian Boarding School, children were separated from their families, forbidden to use their native language and required to speak always in English. Clelum Young, who became a Tulalip leader, said this about his experience in the school before it was closed in 1932:
“They wanted me to forget my way of life and learn to be a good white person. I still don’t know what a good white person is. All I know is that I learned to march, march, march and not speak my language. You got in big trouble for that. I got many whippings and confinement.”
Young’s quote posted in the cultural center is one of many from tribal members describing their experiences. There are other mentions of hardships and discrimination, including the fact that as late as the 1940s and 1950s, Native Americans attending the Bijou Theater in Marysville were required to sit in the back rows on one side of the theater.
Cedars and Salmon
But complaints of racism and mistreatment are but a small part of what is conveyed by the exhibits. Much more focus is on the tribes’ rich heritage and alliance with nature. There are displays devoted to cedars and salmon—the two things that were so important to the well-being of the tribes. They used cedar to make everything from baskets and bowls to clothing and canoes, and, of course, salmon were not only a diet staple, but part of tribal lore.
One interactive display gives visitors the opportunity to hear stories in either English or the native language called Lashootseed. In the longhouse section, you can watch a video explaining that extended families lived in longhouses. In a gallery for temporary exhibits, you can view photos and memorabilia of tribal members who served in the armed forces, and watch videos of veterans describing their military experiences.
Creation of the cultural center fulfills a dream that has been held by tribal members for more than 30 years. “The whole building is a community effort,” said Mytyl Hernandez, the center’s marketing manager. Tribal members donated or loaned many of the items on display, and a group of 10 met twice a week for a year to develop the storyline that guides visitors through the exhibits.
The center will provide the 4,000 members of the Tulalip tribes with a place to take classes in the Lashootseed language, and learn more about their own culture and history. The center’s exhibits include a family tree graphic and a kiosk where tribal members can enter their tribal ID to find information about their earliest ancestors.
You don’t have to be a Native American to enjoy the cultural center. There are fascinating exhibits and an interesting history to be learned— everything from the influence of the Catholic Church to the story of Grandfather King Salmon.
The cultural center is near the Marysville exit of Interstate 5. The center opens at 10 a.m. Tuesday through Friday and at noon on Saturday and Sunday and closes at 5 p.m. each day. For information, visit HibulbCulturalCenter.org or call (360) 716-2600.
In this month’s issue, you can also read about another museum that showcases Native American culture. It is the Heard Museum in Phoenix, and writer Kent R. Davies introduces you to it on Page 18.
Write to Mike Ward, editor at RV Life magazine, 18717 76th Avenue West, Suite B, Lynnwood, WA 98037 or e-mail email@example.com. Find First Glance online at rvlife.com.