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S'abadeb -- The Gifts:
Pacific Coast Salish Art and Artists
October 24, 2008 - January 11,
The first major exhibition
to explore the unique artistry and culture of Coast Salish First Peoples
of Washington State and British Columbia, S'abadeb -- The Gifts: Pacific Coast Salish Art and Artists, is on view at the Seattle Art Museum October 24, 2008, through
January 11, 2009. (right: Andrea Wilbur-Sigo, Thunderbird Saves
Wolf, 2006, Squaxin, red cedar, yellow cedar, paint, 18 x 18 x 22 inches,
Glenn and Ann Parker, © Andrea Wilbur-Sigo. Photo by Wayne Kritsberg)
The exhibition, which was organized by the Seattle Art
Museum, features more than 175 works of art from dozens of national and
international collections -- including 19th-century house posts, tools and
eating utensils; 100-year-old spindle whorls; goat-horn jewelry; and woven
blankets and clothing -- that offer a glimpse into the daily and ceremonial
lives of the 40 groups that make up the Coast Salish.
Curated by Barbara Brotherton, SAM curator of Native American
Art, the exhibition presents many artworks that have never been on public
view. In an extensive, two-year process, Salish First Nations consultants,
museum staff and various humanities experts honed the themes, content and
the presentation of these artworks. Native advisers and contemporary Salish
artists provided unique perspectives on the meanings of the artworks and
how those meanings have survived or been transformed over time.
The result, S'abadeb -- The Gifts: Pacific Coast Salish
Art and Artists, reveals the beauty and power of Coast Salish art and
explores the concepts of property, status, trade, ancestors and family within
Salish communities. Prehistoric, historic and contemporary works shown side-by-side
emphasize the cultural exchanges that began in the late 18th century and
the ongoing vitality of Salish art traditions. Dynamic multimedia presentations
featured in the galleries bring the art to life, taking visitors into the
territories and lives of Salish peoples.
The exhibition title, S'abadeb, is the Lushootseed
term for "gifts" and invokes a principle at the heart of Salish
culture: reciprocal gift-giving. A richly symbolic concept, s'abadeb expresses
the sustained acts of giving of one's time, resources and expertise during
the course of everyday activities, during preparations and enactments of
ceremonies, and within the private realm of religious rituals.
Further evidence of the exhibition's importance is witnessed
by a proclamation issued by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, naming the exhibition's
opening day, Oct. 24, 2008, "Coast Salish Culture Day." In his
proclamation, Mayor Nickels states: "I herby urge citizens to join
me in celebrating the Seattle Art Museum's first major exhibition that explores
the unique artistry of the Coast Salish First People."
Following its presentation in Seattle, S'abadeb
travels to the Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, BC (November 20,
2009 - March 8, 2010).
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated, 300-page
catalog published by the University of Washington Press, a leader in Native
art books. The catalog reflects the most current issues and methodologies
from a variety of perspectives and diverse voices and fills a noticeable
gap in the explication of Salish art and aesthetics. Lavishly illustrated
and researched, the catalogue is a pivotal book on Coast Salish art and
will serve as a lasting reference for scholars and teachers, as well as
for broader audiences.
Following are excerpts from three articles written by the
Seattle Art Museum's manager of school and educator programs.
NIE Chapter One
October 23, 2008
(above: Ron Hilbert Coy (c_'ad_sqid_b), Tulalip/Upper Skagit,
1944-2006, First Salmon Ceremony, ca. 1978, wood, copper and paint,
10 x 28 1/4 x 2 inches, Gift of Vi Hilbert, in honor of the 75th anniversary
of the Seattle Art Museum, © Ron Hilbert Coy, 2005.175, Photo: Susan
- Who are the Coast Salish?
- Coast Salish First Peoples include at least 70 distinct
groups of people that live in Washington State and British Columbia. There
are 14 unique Salishan languages spoken among the Coast Salish peoples.
The ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest are rich in trees, plants, berries,
deer, elk, mountain goats, freshwater and saltwater fish, shellfish and
waterfowl. Think of the many plants and animals you see when you visit
parks in Seattle. Or think about the rivers or forested areas just outside
the city. For thousands of years, Coast Salish people moved freely around
those forested areas and waterways in special types of canoes, becoming
experts in the land and sea. The connection between Coast Salish people
and the land and water of the Pacific Northwest is at the center of their
cultural beliefs and practices.
- Starting in the 1850's Coast Salish people were forced
to move from their land by non-Native settlers and the governments of Canada
and the United States. However, the relationship between Coast Salish people
and the land and water of our region did not end. Like many other Native
groups in the United States and Canada, even today the Coast Salish people
continue to fight for rights to their homelands and natural resources like
salmon, shellfish and cedar trees.
- Gifts of the Earth
- To Coast Salish First Peoples, the earth is the ultimate
source of nourishment and knowledge. Like many cultures worldwide, the
earth provides the Coast Salish gifts of food, shelter, clothing and medicine.
Based on these beliefs, you might consider the Coast Salish our first environmentalists.
For example, they feel that it's okay to use natural resources- it's just
not okay to abuse them or use them up.
- One way that the Coast Salish celebrate their respect
for the earth is through First Foods Ceremonies. These ceremonies honor
all kinds of traditional foods-water, clams, duck, elk, salmon, sprouts,
berries- and celebrate the appearance of these foods at certain times of
year. First Foods Ceremonies involve the entire community. Many people
come together to harvest and prepare special foods for the ceremonies.
They also sing songs to thank the earth for providing them with these important
foods year after year.
- One important First Foods Ceremony is the First Salmon
Ceremony. This ceremony is the subject of Tulalip/Upper Skagit artist Ron
Hilbert Coy's painting First Salmon Ceremony (see above). The ceremony
is made up of a particular sequence of events. First, there is singing
to welcome the first salmon of the season. Second, salmon is carried on
top of cedar tree branches into the house where it is cooked and ritually
eaten. At the end of the ceremony the bones of the salmon are returned
to the water. This demonstrates that the salmon has been well treated and
will be welcomed again when it returns the next year.
- The First Salmon Ceremony gives thanks to the salmon
for returning year after year, teaches us about our dependence on nature,
and highlights our responsibility to protect the earth and its gifts (food,
water, etc.). From the late 1800's to the mid-twentieth century the Canadian
and United States governments banned ceremonies like the First Salmon Ceremony.
Despite this, the stories of these ceremonies lived on and in 1978 the
Skokomish tribe of Washington State was able to reinstate the First Salmon
NIE Chapter Two
October 30, 2008
- Gifts of Our Ancestors
- What did the ancestors leave behind for us to learn from
- The Coast Salish First Peoples of Washington State and
British Columbia live in an area traditionally called the "Salish
Sea." The Salish Sea is made up of the major waterways of Puget Sound,
the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Strait of Georgia. Before the creation
of the border between British and United States territories in 1846, Coast
Salish people moved freely around the region for thousands of years. In
fact, evidence of humans living in the Pacific Northwest dates back at
least 11,000 years! The water is at the core of Coast Salish culture. Historically,
Coast Salish communities identified themselves by the rivers, creeks and
bays that make up their homelands. For example, salmon and other fish and
shellfish are staples of the traditional Coast Salish diet; and until as
recently as the 1930s, canoes were the primary means of travel for Coast
- For the Coast Salish, knowledge and wisdom are considered
gifts that come from living elders and recent ancestors. Knowledge of the
past, present and future is handed down from generation to generation through
oral traditions like singing songs and telling stories. Traditional art-making
skills are passed on to younger artists through oral instruction and observation.
Works of art also tell stories. Some are decorated with images that tell
about a significant historical event or a particular family. Other artworks
tell us about the creativity of artist that made them or the way that those
artworks have been used since they were created.
- Susan Point is a contemporary Coast Salish artist whose
artwork often shows the faces of the Ancient Ones, or beings from the time
before humans. Her home is part of the Musqueam First Nation Reserve in
Vancouver, Canada. A reserve (in Canada) or a reservation (in the United
States) is a government- established body of land that belongs to a designated
group of people. Although the histories of reserves in Canada and reservations
in the United States are very different, their definitions are quite similar.
- The Musqueam Reserve includes the land of Susan Point's
Coast Salish ancestors who lived at the mouth of the Fraser River. Can
you see the influence of the river in her carving called The First People
(see image)? The curved pieces of wood that surround the eight faces in
the carving represent the waterways of her homeland. These waterways were
and continue to be important sources of salmon and other foods for Coast
- Much of Susan Point's knowledge of the past comes from
songs, stories, dances and speeches told to her by elders from her community.
She also studies old works of Coast Salish art collected by explorers and
archeologists. Her carving called The First People honors the first
humans who appeared along the Fraser River.
NIE Chapter Three
November 6, 2008
(above: Coast Salish, Model canoe, early 19th century,
wood, leather, 7 x 22 x 41/2 inches, acquired by Colin Robertson, before
1833, Perth Museum and Art Gallery, Perth & Kinross Council, Scotland,
- Gifts of Our Families
- Like cultures around the world, Coast Salish First Peoples
of Washington State and British Columbia strongly value family. Coast Salish
families are defined both by the father's and the mother's ancestors and
are organized into groups called "kindreds," meaning "groups
of related people." Traditionally, Coast Salish families lived in
large cedar plank houses and were identified by shared family names. Unfortunately,
these traditional ways of living were greatly altered by contact with non-Native
peoples. For example, during the eighteen and nineteenth centuries devastating
diseases brought to the Pacific Northwest by European fur traders killed
thousands of Native people. Then official and unofficial restrictions were
placed on important family ceremonies and rights to subsistence activities
like fishing and gathering. Finally, from the 1870s to the early twentieth
century Native children were removed from their families and sent to boarding
schools where they weren't allowed to speak their own languages or wear
their own clothes.
- Despite these disruptions, some Coast Salish families
and individuals have held on to important knowledge and traditions. These
traditions, which include family names, songs, stories, dances, objects
and land, relate to all aspects of Coast Salish life
- This small Coast Salish canoe model was most likely carved
as a trade item. It references a time when canoes were the main means of
transportation for Coast Salish families along Northwest Coast rivers and
open salt waters. This canoe is called a sdexiA in Lushootseed,
a language spoken by several Coast Salish groups in Washington State. SdexiA
is the word both for car and canoe in Lushootseed.
- Until the 1930s canoes were used for trade, visiting
relatives, and travel to different fishing, hunting and food gathering
locations. Canoe travel helped to connect all the different communities
in the Northwest Coast area, just like cars and roads enable tribes across
the United States and Canada stay in touch today.
- In 1989 more than twenty Native canoes landed on the
shores of Seattle in an event honoring the water-based traditions of the
Coast Salish. Known as the "Paddle to Seattle," the event included
canoes from Native communities in northwest Washington as well as one canoe
from Bella Bella British Columbia. Since 1989 there have been multiple
ocean based canoe travels called Canoe Journeys or Tribal Journeys. These
events have inspired a resurgence of Native culture and values. During
these annual events "Canoe Families," or groups of people who
join together to support a canoe, travel long distances on the ocean and
the inland salt waters. The 2008 host of the Canoe Journey was the Quw'utsun
Nation at Duncan, British Columbia. More than 100 canoes came from the
southern coast of Washington to as far north as Alaska.
- Canoe Journeys are rich experiences that bring on a mixture
of feelings for participants, from the exhilaration of traveling on the
water the ancestors did, to tests of physical and mental endurance, to
fun and celebration. The Canoe Journey is not a vacation; it is a voyage
that is at once personal and communal.
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