Often news about the hard work and impact of First Nations Development Institute’s grantee projects is shared externally through photos, reports, social media postings and newsletters, such as First Nations’ Indian Giver. Although these methods provide a wonderful glimpse into the work being done, actually seeing the projects first-hand offers a far more comprehensive understanding and a much deeper appreciation.
In June 2019, six tour participants had the opportunity to visit with First Nations grantees and other communities in coastal Washington and personally get to know the individuals involved and see, first-hand, the amazing grassroots work they are doing in their communities.
A Salish Sojourn: A Northwest Tour took place June 9-15 and included visits to seven tribal communities and one Seattle-based grantee. Participating communities and organizations were each given a small grant to thank them for taking the time and effort to be a part of the tour. The goal of this trip was to present an opportunity for First Nations donors and other participants to understand the challenges and successes of grantees and other Native groups in the Northwest.
The tour began with a home-cooked dinner of traditional foods prepared by Muckleshoot tribal member Rosa Maldonado. Participants met with Rosa, tour guide and Muckleshoot tribal member Valerie Segrest, and Muckleshoot tribal council member Louie Ungaro. First Nations President & CEO Michael Roberts and Board Member Chandra Hampson also were in attendance. The meal was a wonderful kickoff to the journey, and showcased traditional foods in a variety of preparations, including fresh-caught, sage-baked salmon; locally hunted venison with a garlic-sorrel sauce handpicked from local mountains; wild rice cakes; grilled maple squash; and sweetgrass tea.
The second day began at Muckleshoot Tribal College, where staff presented on the work done through funding from First Nations’ Native Arts Initiative (NAI). This grant has primarily served to lead classes on traditional crafts, ranging from regalia creation to weaving. After the group’s time at the college, participants visited the Muckleshoot Carving Shed. Carvers Tyson Simmons and Keith Stevenson shared their stories and answered questions while guests toured the shed. The group then toured the Muckleshoot Elders Complex, a beautiful facility that provides meals, medicines and other services to elders within the community. This tour included a special visit to the Elders Herbal Pharmacy – a service offered by Valerie Segrest. In addition to guiding our tour for this journey, Valerie is a Native nutrition educator and traditional foods specialist. She works with elders in the Muckleshoot Elders Complex to determine traditional, plant-based medicines that treat any ailments in congruence with their prescriptions. The pharmacy visit included an opportunity to learn about traditional herbal remedies, as well as a chance to watch Valerie make a traditional tea for skin and hair, which participants were then able to take home.
The afternoon of the second day was spent at Squaxin Island. Community members Aleta Poste and Elizabeth Campbell led a guided walk of the Squaxin Island Community Garden, explaining the plants seen on a wooded path filled with traditional medicines, and then touring the garden itself. Participants had an opportunity to see the natural state of many of the medicines they had seen in their dried form in the Herbal Pharmacy, including stinging nettle, devil’s club, horsetail and salmonberry. After the garden, the tour visited the Squaxin Island Tribe Museum, Library and Research Center. There tour attendees were led by Tribal Council Member Charlene Krise and given a brief overview of the tribe’s history. The day concluded with a traditional canoe ride led by Chris Sigo and a seafood fest. Chris took the time to share some of the local history, explain paddling protocol, and give an overview of the annual Canoe Journey. Participants also were treated to a traditional seafood feast prepared by community member Bobbi Brown’s Kalmiche catering. This feast included geoduck chowder, baked salmon and local clams, along with fresh fruits and vegetables.
On the third day, the group made its way to scenic Neah Bay. Situated in the westernmost point of the continental United States, Neah Bay is home to the Makah Tribe. After a winding, tree-sheltered drive along miles of cliffs towering over rock and glimmering sea, participants were led on a tour of the Makah Cultural and Research Center (Makah Museum) by Executive Director and Makah tribal member Janine Ledford. This tour was extremely detailed, including access to the museum’s archives and a tour of a traditional longhouse. Afterward, the group traveled to the Be?is gathering place, where they learned from expert weaver Theresa Parker and had an opportunity to walk out and greet the ocean.
House of Myths
The next stop was the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe. The fourth day began at the House of Myths Carving Shed, where a master carver and an apprentice carver gave an overview of the variations between tribal carving methods and symbols, spoke of upcoming projects, and explained the story poles they were in the process of painting. After the House of Myths, participants met with Ron Allen, the Chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and former First Nations board member. He explained the history of the tribe’s battle for recognition and some of the tribe’s current projects.
That afternoon, the tour visited Suquamish, where attendees met with Suquamish Museum Director Janet Smoak and tribal member and museum staffer Gus Purser. Janet gave an overview of the museum’s history and its NAI project, which features an artist-in-residence program. Gus led the group on a tour of the museum and archives before bringing everyone to the Chief Sealf (Seattle) grave site. A figure of massive importance in Northwestern and American history, Chief Seattle was a chief of the Duwamish Tribe who is best known for his dedication to his people, negotiation skills, and an especially well-known speech encouraging traditional Indigenous ecological values. The tour then visited the House of Awakened Culture, a longhouse specifically built in time to host the 2009 Canoe Journey. The day drew to an end at Kiana Lodge, where participants enjoyed traditionally roasted salmon and heard from Jay Mills, a former First Nations grantee and Suquamish Tribal Council Member.
Healing to Wellness Court
The fifth day began in Swinomish, where Community Health Specialist Larry Campbell and Environmental Health Analyst Dr. Jamie Donatuto gave an overview of the tribe’s history and current projects. Participants then enjoyed a traditional snack of dried salmonberry while tribal members made balms and ointments that will be used on the upcoming Canoe Journey. After the time in Swinomish, the tour journeyed to the Tulalip Tribes for a visit at the Hibulb Cultural Center. Nicole Sieminksi, tribal member and Executive Director of the Tulalip Foundation, gave an overview of their work. Center staff led a tour of the museum. Participants then visited a traditional longhouse by the sea. The next stop was Tulalip’s Healing to Wellness Court, which is a prime example of one of many ways tribes can exercise their sovereignty by Indigenizing and decolonizing current legal practices, mental health and chemical-dependency treatment methods. Participants heard from and spoke with staff currently involved in the Wellness Court, and left with a better understanding of the ways the court works to guide defendants to a safer place in life. The day ended at the Hibulb Center with a traditional dinner prepared by community member Inez Bill and a flute circle with tribal member and musician Cary Williams.
The final day of the journey took place in Seattle. Tour attendees met with the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation (UIATF), a nonprofit serving Natives in the Seattle area. UIATF began with a tour of its Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center for an introduction to the center and a presentation of the organization’s recent NAI-funded workshops, then participants explored the facility and were taken on a guided tour of the Bernie Whitebear Ethnobotanical Gardens. That afternoon, the group visited the Preston Singletary Gallery, where the Tlingit artist creates exquisite glass creations rooted in traditional imagery. Finally, the tour concluded with a traditional dinner, including time to speak with First Nations Board Member Chandra Hampson and Muckleshoot Tribal Council Member Louie Ungaro.
Despite the long hours and many destinations, tour members left feeling invigorated, educated and ready to learn more about the tribes of Washington and beyond. A Salish Sojourn provided an excellent opportunity for guests to see Native Americans as they exist today – multifaceted and diverse, varying massively from community to community, and existing in both rural and urban spaces.
In an evaluation of the trip, participant and donor Catherine Thiemann said she was “inspired to learn more about the Native tribes and communities” especially around her home in the San Diego area. This is precisely the outcome that First Nations hopes for in arranging these tours – that attendees will leave with a feeling of inspiration and a desire to learn more about Native communities in their local areas and beyond.