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The Whatcom Museum is bringing the history and culture of the Pacific Northwest to life with the opening of its new exhibit "People of the Sea and Cedar." The exhibit opened on July 15 and is located in the Lightcatcher Building of the Whatcom Museum.

"People of the Sea and Cedar" includes many pieces of traditional Lummi and Nooksack crafts, along with short bios and pictures of the artists who created them. From pictures of historical cultural dress, to masterfully carved totems, the museum displays a vast vibrant culture that has endured through the years.

“For a long time, the people of this area were not interested in the culture of the native people who lived here. There was a large hole in our local history that needed to be filled. Exhibits like this can help change that.”

Candace Wellman, exhibit visitor

Mary Jo Maute, education and public program coordinator at the Whatcom Museum, said exhibits like this are important because they help to preserve the culture of native peoples. She said the museum worked with the Lummi Nation and the Nooksack tribe to make sure their cultures were represented properly.

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Display at People of the Sea and Cedar exhibit in Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Wash. July 18, 2017. // Photo by Dan Thomas

“The tribes are most keen to make sure that we share that the cultures are still very vibrant and living today,” Maute said. “A lot of people think the tribes are just something of the past — that there isn't any living culture.”

Maute said tribal members stressed the importance of the environment and how their culture and people had thrived in this area for centuries. Maute said the tribes wish to guide people to a better understanding of the environment and more of an appreciation for the ecosystems in the area.

As a part of the opening, Tamara Cooper-Woodrich, a Nooksack storyteller, was on hand to tell legends that had been passed down for generations. She told tales of old lessons and the origin stories of how certain animals came to live on the Nooksack River.

“In the Native American stories, the lore is that everything has a reason to be here,” Cooper-Woodrich said. “So the stories were made and created, and sent down through the centuries, to explain everything.”

Whether it is why the raven is black, or why there are so many mosquitos on the river, the Nooksack people have a story for it.

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Display at People of the Sea and Cedar exhibit in Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Wash. July 18, 2017. // Photo by Dan Thomas

Candace Wellman, who recently published a book called “Peace Weavers: Uniting the Salish Coast Through Cross-Cultural Marriages,” a compilation of four biographies of some of the women of the Coast Salish tribes, attended the event. Wellman said her book includes stories of women who married county officials, military officers and others who were left out of the history books.

Wellman said, of all of the artifacts and pictures on display, she was most interested in the woven baskets and blankets. She was hopeful that the exhibit might create some exposure for the expertly crafted materials on display.   

“For a long time, the people of this area were not interested in the culture of the native people who lived here,” Wellman said “There was a large hole in our local history that needed to be filled. Exhibits like this can help change that.”


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