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S'abadeb -- The Gifts: Pacific Coast Salish Art and Artists

October 24, 2008 - January 11, 2009


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.


Educational articles

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 Cole )


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 Ceremony.


NIE Chapter Two

October 30, 2008

Gifts of Our Ancestors
What did the ancestors leave behind for us to learn from today?
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 Salish people.
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 Salish people.
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, T2007.46.3)


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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