Passing Down Art and History at the Tulalip Tribes

Weaving Workshop at the Hibulb Cultural Center

At a Weaving Workshop, participants Bonnie Juneau, Glee Tolliver and Shelly Williams are shown working on their projects as Anita Keeta Sheldon (far right) assists. Bonnie is a member of the Tulalip Tribes Board of Directors (the tribal governing body).

Generations ago, art was everywhere in the Tulalip culture, represented in its tools, clothing, food and ceremony. After years of outside stressors chipping away at the tribes’ artistic soul, the Hibulb Cultural Center is working to bring art back. Since 2011, the center has invested in culturally-significant educational programming. And now with funding from First Nations’ Native Arts Initiative, it is bolstering its classes, reaching more people and fostering even more pride in the craftsmanship and elegance of Tulalip art.

Knowledge Beyond Each Craft

The passing down of artistic skills has always been a calling of the Hibulb Cultural Center. Through the years, it has seen how art education has strengthened the culture and the community. People have sought opportunities to learn about carving, weaving, knitting and jewelry making. The center has responded with monthly demonstrations and workshops. Art has been honored as a form of storytelling, and in demonstrating their crafts, local artists have been able to pass down a legacy of the elders.

Still, as with many Native organizations, the Hibulb Cultural Center faced an issue of capacity. The workshops had been serving roughly 50 artists monthly. But an increasing number of individuals throughout the community were calling for ways to explore their artistic sides and express their cultural identity. Another issue was that the center’s education and youth services departments offered art lessons for children, but there were not many learning opportunities for adults. And, the workshops offered were only scratching the surface of artistry. The community wanted longer, more in-depth and hands-on lessons.

A Strategic Response

A Beading Workshop intensely focuses the attention of participants.

At a Beading Workshop, participants Laini Jones, Sara Andres, Dawn Sallee, Erin Lopez-Yazzie and Katie Curless work on their projects as instructor Richard Muir Jr. (second from right) assists.

It was a good problem to have – a demand for more art and more opportunities to strengthen the Tulalip culture. The Tulalip Foundation sought funding for the Hibulb Cultural Center through First Nations’ Native Arts Initiative, which is designed to stimulate long-term perpetuation, proliferation and revitalization of traditional artistic and cultural assets in Native communities.

With the grant, the center designed and implemented a series of five six-week-long workshops exploring various art forms, including contemporary beadwork, cedar weaving, cradle board making, drawing and painting, and cedar carving. Each class delved into the history of the art form and the traditions and practices surrounding it – an illustration of how art was a part of Tulalip everyday living. For example, explained Tulalip Foundation Executive Director Nicole Sieminski, classes taught how a beautifully-woven fish basket represented the art of weaving and the functionality of carrying food. A story pole depicted ornate carvings and shared a life lesson to be handed down.

Key to the workshops was the focus on teaching Coast Salish art versus the more well-known Northwest Coast style. The classes stressed the differences between the styles and promoted the perpetuation of the Coast Salish form, which is core to the Tulalip Tribes.

The classes also taught students about the wood used for carving: Cedar, which is an important material to the Tulalip people. “The classes let us pass down traditional stories and teachings about cedar: how to harvest it, how to process the wood, how to treat the trees,” said Sieminski. “It’s not just about carving. It’s about how to be environmentally sensitive.”

The new artists were given opportunities to work hands-on and create pieces. Through the grant, all staff time, materials and work space were provided. And throughout the entire project, over 50 community members completed one of the five workshops.

Displaying with Pride

At the end of each of the workshops, an event was held to publicly recognize the artists and their work. Mytyl Hernandez, marketing and membership manager for Hibulb Cultural Center, said the artists were naturally humble, and many were embarrassed to show their work. But all could appreciate their role in continuing the ways of the Tulalip people.

Hernandez said that the displays helped people recognize their ancestors’ elegance, quality worksmanship and care for their community. “It is something they learned as a virtue to continue,” she said.

“We discovered so many talented artists in our community, but the most important thing was the historical value behind their work – and passing down the history and the culture,” added Sieminski. “Becoming an artist is just a bonus.”

A Lasting Curriculum

Drawing Workshop

At a Drawing Workshop, instructor Steven Madison is shown presenting.

Throughout the project, Sieminski has witnessed the growing interest in the community, and the power of giving people opportunities to explore their artistic side. “When we’re able to say here are some tools, they listen and they learn.”

Sieminski said the support from First Nations gave them not only the financial backing to go forward, but also validation about the importance of art. With the funding they were able to develop five more class curriculums that they can build on, share with others, and continue to offer going forward. The project has yielded incredible art and a boost to the artist population.

But more than the ability to do art, Sieminski said, the workshops have met the overall goal of education. “We’re reaching a new generation,” she said, “but it is not important how many of them will become artists. What’s important is how many will have the knowledge or experience to share or to teach.”

The Native Arts Initiative perpetuates Native art, whether by investing in new projects or by helping organizations that are committed to art to go further. For the Tulalip community, it has led to a continued sharing of cultural traditions and practices. Hernandez reported that more community members are sharing their family history and techniques, young ones are learning about their talented grandfathers and grandmothers, and students are using art for contemporary purposes, while still recognizing its legacy.

In a world where their culture is vulnerable, and where old ways are too easily forgotten, an excitement is building and new art is being created. A statement by Hernandez may say it best: “Their ancestors would be proud.”

By Amy Jakober