Seattle – Native American Artists – 2

In the second in our series of Native American artists whom The Burke Museum chose to answer the discrimination perpetrated on the indigenous people during Seattle’s World’s Fair in 1909, I introduce you to 3 women.

  • Mary Lou Slaughter, Duwamish tribe, is the great grand-daughter of Chief Si’ahl (Chief “Seattle”), for whom the City of Seattle is named. Due to the severe discrimination which still existed openly, and which she experienced first-hand in Bremerton as she grew up, Mary Lou preferred to be thought of as Scandinavian, like her father. But, as she says,”I have a famous linage of which I was not proud of until I went to Alaska and picked up an Eagle feather and the Creator told me it was ok that I was Native American, He made me the way I was.”

    Since then, Mary Lou has embraced her heritage, learned its culture, studied with its artistic masters and is now regarded as a Living Treasure. She continues to teach the younger members of the Duwamish tribe the traditional skills, when they show interest and talent.

    Famed as a basket maker, craftswoman of the renowned woven Salish tribal hats and beaten cedar bark tribal clothing, Mary Lou was chosen as one of the 16 Native American artists to give Voice to their people’s plight – a century ago, as well as today – when during the George W. Bush administration, the US Federal Government has declared her people “extinct”, even as they strive to regain their Treaty Rights.

    Her tribal Name is Sla’ Da, which means “lady” and it was her grandmother’s name. She is a multidimensional artist, and she designed the floor parquetry installed in the new Duwamish Longhouse in Seattle — the first built in more than a century — on the first tribal land in Seattle, since their land was taken nearly 160 years ago.

    The tribe had to save and purchase the land for the Longhouse and Cultural Center themselves, and that 3/4 acre means the world to them. You can read about that and about Michael Halady, her artist son, at Michael Halady and the Duwamish Tribe’s Petition.

    The Duwamish are part of the Interior Coast Salish tribes, who live along the eastern part of Puget Sound and into the interior, along its myriad rivers and waterways. The whole system is now called the Salish Sea.

    Mary Lou has also been fighting to have the Seattle Metro area cities clean-up the tribe’s ancestral river, the Duwamish, from the severe modern pollution, so it can return to its original, pristine health, as the Tribe had always protected it. Her great grand-father would be proud of her.

  • DeAnn Sackman-Jacobson, (Duwamish)
    DeAnn Sackman-Jacobson is a descendant of Chief Si’ahl and his daughter Angeline. DeAnn first learned basket weaving in 2003, and mastered her art as an apprentice with Mary Lou Slaughter. Now, Sackman-Jacobson is dedicated to preserving her Native arts and culture and passing this art on to others.
  • Matika Wilbur, (Swinomish/Tulalip Tribe)
    Educated at the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, CA, and at Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Montana, Matika’s artistic photographs capture the essence of contemporary Native American elders from various Coast Salish Tribes. Her work has been displayed at Swinomish and Tulalip, as well as in the Seattle Art Museum.

    As part of today’s reality for Native American artists and tribal members, Matika says “It’s frustrating to me that all the Indian art is represented by white gallery owners”.

    About the Anglo owners, Wilbur continues, “They don’t really differentiate the Tlingit and the Cherokee from the Coastal Salish people”.

    That’s like saying ‘well the Poles are no different than the British, after all they are all Europeans!’ The Cherokee Matika is likely referring to are the family of Chief Lelooska, near Ariel, WA who were “adopted” into the Kwakiutl tribe.

    If this is the case, I think Wilbur should be silent, as it was a Kwakiutl tribal choice, and they must have respected him greatly to name him “Chief of Chiefs”. The Lelooska family’s artwork is world-caliber.

    Makita works in her Seattle studio.

    Matika is also represented in a second museum exhibition which opened in Seattle last year and which is now in Victoria, BC, until the end of the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, BC.

    The exhibition is “S’abadeb — The Gifts: Pacific Coast Salish Art and Artists” showcases the living culture of some 70 tribes and groups — including the Duwamish, the Suquamish, the Muckleshoot, the Tulalip, the Puyallup, the Saanich and the Cowichan peoples — whose territory once encompassed the entire Puget Sound region, including the sites of Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. and Victoria, B.C.

    Some of the artifacts were collected when Captain George Vancouver took them in 1792 and are returning to the Northwest from abroad.

    The exhibition erases the artificial boundary between Native American and First Nations groups in Canada and the U.S. and it offers greater understanding of a cultural heritage that has long been overlooked by Anglo-Europeans on both sides of the border.

    In “S’abadeb” (pronounced Sah-BAH-deb), which means “gifts” in Salish, Wilbur’s photographs of Coast Salish tribal elders will hang near early-20th-century photographs by Edward Curtis, (who used props and costumes in many of his stereotypical images of Native Americans).

    The idea of contrasting the work was presented to Wilbur by Seattle Art Museum’s curator Barbara Brotherton, and the young photographer showed her contemporary sensibility by embracing it.

    Matika responds: “A lot of people think [Curtis’] work is controversial because they say it was so staged. As a photographer, personally I think everything is staged. The world is as we see it, not as it is …”.

    Wilbur thinks the contrast between the different visions will be informative. “You have an inside perspective and an outside perspective, and a time difference. I think the words people read will help them connect.”

    Brotherton reflects about the “S’abadeb” exhibition: “We hope to provide a platform for accurately understanding the traditions of Coast Salish people; after decades of suppression, Northwest Native cultures have been steadily rebuilding. There is a tremendous renaissance in Salish culture occurring right now.”

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