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Whatcom Museum's permanent exhibit showcases new Indigenous art and history

New voices, deeper understanding: Whatcom Museum reopens revamped "People of the Sea and Cedar" exhibit

The Lightcatcher building at the Whatcom Museum at 250 Flora St. in Bellingham, Wash. on Nov. 30, 2023. Apart from their permanent exhibit, a rotating schedule of art exhibitions is hosted throughout the year. // Photo by Evan Riley

The “People of the Sea and Cedar: A Journey Through the Tribal Cultures and History of the Northwest Coast” exhibition at the Whatcom Museum is being updated to better tell the history of the Northwest Coast people. 

Located in the second-floor gallery of the Lightcatcher building, the permanent exhibit showcases art of the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Indian Tribe, with a mix of historical and contemporary themes to educate visitors about the area’s Indigenous history. 

Victoria Blackwell, the director of exhibitions and programs at the Whatcom Museum, assisted in the initial opening in 2017 and has been working to oversee the recent improvements. 

This revision will feature artwork crafted by local Coast Salish artists to build upon the previous exhibit. An important goal was to create the space within the exhibition to share contemporary Indigenous art created by artists that can shift as new connections are made. 

“We had two very important Salish story poles in the museum’s collection carved by master carvers Morrie Alexander and Dale James,” Blackwell said. “We were committed early on to conserving the poles and installing them in the Lightcatcher building to share the history of carving culture.”

With 29 federally recognized Tribes in Washington, sharing the history and culture of the Northwest Coast Tribes serves as an indispensable resource because they are the original stewards of the lands on which we now reside. 

However, the Whatcom Museum is one of the only museums in the state to have Indigenous art as a permanent part of their collection. 

Cheryl Wilcox is a member and elder of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and serves as the Tribal cultural affairs program manager for the Washington State Arts Commission. One of her roles is to support the advancement of Indigenous art in Washington.

“One thing people can do is learn from the Tribes that they live around,” Wilcox said. “It creates a more respectful relationship with Northwest Tribes. If we understand some of the culture and history, we hold more awareness of our land.”

Blackwell helped establish an Indigenous Advisory Committee to guide exhibition content, which includes members from the Lummi and Nooksack Tribes. This helps the Whatcom Museum remain respectful of the cultural protocols of the Northwest Coast Tribes.

The exhibit is set to reopen on Feb. 2, 2024 at the Whatcom Museum, located at 250 Flora St. in Bellingham, Wash. Hours of operation are Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m., with tickets being $10 for the general public and $8 for youth and students with a valid ID.

Evan Riley

Evan Riley (he/him) is a city news reporter for The Front this quarter. He is a third-year student at Western working towards his major in News/Editorial journalism. He has dreams of becoming a travel writer and is continually thinking about where he'll go next. 

You can reach him at

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