A rain-soaked Saturday in Seattle seemed like a good time to visit the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center that “proudly stands near the mouth of the Duwamish River, across the street from an ancestral village.” In 1855, Chief Si’at for whom the city is named signed the Treaty of Point Elliott thereby ceding 54,000 acres of Duwamish land to the federal government.
As with so many treaties, the United States promised compensation, reserved land, and the right to fish and hunt. And as has happened so many times, the treaty was violated and the promises were not kept. Currently, despite decades of work by the Duwamish tribe, under the leadership of chairwoman Cecile Hansen, their tribe is not recognized by the federal government. Duwamish people can’t even fish in the river that bears their tribe’s name.
The Duwamish Longhouse “is a traditional cedar post and beam structure designed in the Puget Salish Longhouse style.” In addition to tribal offices and a traditional longhouse (with a beautiful inlaid wood floor), the building has a native art gallery, Duwamish history museum, and gift shop.
As I wandered through the exhibits, I was drawn to a distinctive design by local artist Gerrad Stockdale: the bicycle that heads this column. Although there were other interesting prints, including a distinctive toothbrush, the bicycle is the item that kept my attention strongly focused.
In his artist’s statement, Stockdale tells of staring at a large NW form line mural at a Tacoma YMCA when he was six years old. “I didn’t know what it was, but I loved it because it gave me a sense of calm.” When he was thirteen years of age, living in Puyallup, his family’s refrigerator/freezer and stacked washer/dryer reminded him of totem poles.
For five years he worked with his uncle and cousins at the Puyallup Fair. His cousins were animators for Walt Disney and had given up “hand animations in favor of computer generated graphics.” Gerrad did the same and after college “worked on graphic novels and comic books.” He began to explore NW form lines and “people began asking for more.”
“My vision is to remind people of the Puget Sound’s uniqueness—the abundance of life that allowed its first people to create a rich & distinctive culture and style of art. Through NW form lines, we connect to & remember a more pristine Puget Sound—even if we don’t fully understand it. We have lost so much both culturally and environmentally. The spirits still live here. Sometimes, they have just taken other forms.”
I left the Cedar Longhouse convinced that if Chief Seattle could return to modern Seattle, one of the new things he would gladly adopt would be traveling by bicycle and that Gerrad Stockdale’s splendid creation is one that he would be pleased to ride.
One of the delights during our visit was the opportunity to meet Chairwoman Cecile Hansen. Her strong, vibrant presence was almost enough to drive away the rain.