Hibulb center marks 1st year as home to Tulalip history

TULALIP — The Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve has had plenty of visitors in its first year, but that doesn’t tell the whole story of its success.

“It’s people learning about their culture, it’s about their experience and if we are making a connection,” said Tessa Campbell, assistant curator for the cultural center, which includes a museum.

In that context, Campbell said, “I have just received rave reviews from so many people.”

The $19 million center opened to the public in August 2011. To mark the anniversary, the Tulalip Tribes have scheduled three days of events Friday through Sunday to include artist demonstrations, storytelling, film screenings, lectures and craft vendors. Admission, normally $10 for adults, is free.

The 23,000-square foot museum was many years in the making, and features items that had been stored in people’s basements, attics, closets and sheds for decades, including tools, clothing, canoes and totem poles.

More than 3,000 non-tribal members paid to visit the museum in its inaugural year, tribal spokeswoman Francesca Hillery said. The total attendance isn’t known because tribal members are admitted free and aren’t typically counted, and no one pays on the first Thursday of the month.

The number of tribal visitors has steadily increased, especially in the past few months, Campbell said. Tribal members are taking advantage of the programs at the center, including craft classes, a lecture series and a garden program, in which students learn how to grow and process traditional tribal foods. The garden is seen as a way to help tribal members improve their diets and in turn their health.

“We see this garden as more than a garden program, it’s taking charge of your life and taking charge of what you eat,” said Inez Bill, coordinator for the tribes’ Rediscovery Program.

Craft presenters have included tribal member Judi Gobin, who taught participants how to weave cedar dolls, for which she won an award in New Mexico, according to the tribes. Lecture series presenters have included Sasha Harmon, a University of Washington assistant professor of American Indian studies, who discussed the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855.

In addition to the artifacts, the museum features interactive elements to hear narratives in both English and Lushootseed, the language native of the Salish tribes of the Puget Sound basin.

An exhibit on fishing includes nature sounds.

“I think, even to this day, a year later, I go over there and I sit and listen to the water and birds and eagles,” museum director Hank Gobin said.

Other exhibits include a focus on the Christian boarding schools where many tribal children were taken in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; on the Point Elliott Treaty; and on the Tulalip Tribes today. Another, titled “Warriors: We Remember,” honors Tulalip members who saw action in the U.S. armed services.

When the museum opened, Gobin said, he made sure to observe visitors to see whether they were making a connection.

“They were engaged,” he said. “And I think they were impressed, too. It was a new experience for them, for people in the northern Puget Sound corridor.”

Campbell said she’s heard a lot of positive comments about the ambience in the museum’s hallway, which includes large cedar carvings, beams and a tiled floor. Windows near the ceiling bring natural light into the hall, reminiscent of a tribal smokehouse, where gatherings and spiritual ceremonies take place.

The center has just offered a hint of its future, tribal members say. Education programs will be expanded; many more artifacts are stored away, awaiting eventual display; and a 42-acre Natural History Preserve is being planned adjacent to the building, featuring native plants, trees, trails and signs.

“With our cultural center we can now say the history of the Tulalip people has a home, and the spirit of our ancestors has said ‘Thank you, thank you’ for building a house to honor and respect our memory,” Gobin said.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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