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Hibulb Cultual Center: Focus on Puget Sound Native Americans

Tulalip Tribes logo

Interview by Ed Wetschler

The Seattle area is not just Starbucks, seafood, and grunge rock. Just 40 miles to the north of Seattle, a new Hibulb Cultural Center on the Tulalip Reservation opened to the public August 20th. This cultural center, preserve, and museum dedicated to the history, heritage, and arts of several Indian tribes indigenous to the Washington State will give you a whole new sense of the Native Americans in the Puget Sound region. We went to the top – Cultural Resources Manager and Director Henry Gobin – for the lowdown.

Is the Hibulb Cultural Center the only museum dedicated to Native Americans in Washington State?

No, 16 federally recognized tribes live in this state, and there are several other Indian museums. But the Hibulb Cultural Center is the only tribal facility certified by the State of Washington.


Henry Gobin. Photo by Charla Bear / KPLU


Who are the Tulalip?

The Tulalip (pronounced tu LAY lip) include the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, and some smaller groups who signed the Point Elliott Treaty [1855], which guaranteed the tribes hunting and fishing rights and reservations. Those old tribal leaders were smart. They knew that the Snoqualmie and Skykomish tribes would not allow the Snohomish to name this the Snohomish Indian Reservation, and vice versa. So rather than fighting and squabbling, they said, let us call ourselves the Tulalip tribe. I think it was a stroke of genius.


And the name “Hibulb?”

One of our elders, long since deceased, said it means “place where the white doves live.” And thirty or forty years ago, old people told me that one of the distinguishing traits of a Snohomish cedar bark basket was that the weavers would always put a bird symbol on the rim.

A few years ago five or six of those baskets came walking into our office. A man’s late wife had bought them forty or sixty years earlier, and this was when one of my staff was trying to breathe life back into weaving. One of our elders, Stephanie Charlie, said,  “I’d like to see them.” When we showed them to her, she said, “My God, my mother made those baskets!”

Do people on the reservation still make those baskets?

Yes; in fact, we are witnessing a revival among basket weavers, and also textile weavers, carvers, drum makers, painters, and bead workers. Some very good contemporary pieces are displayed in the gift shop as well as the museum itself.


Hibulb Carving Detail


The indigenous peoples of the Puget Sound were hunters and salmon fishermen, but the new Cultural Center also displays whale imagery.Were your forefathers whalers as well as fishermen?

We use the whale in our logo, but we weren’t whalers. According to the late Freddie Sam, there was a time when our people were very poor: no fish, no deer, no elk. So they prayed, and the blackfish whale heard their prayers, saw that people were starving, herded up a bunch of seals, and threw the seals up onto the beach. The people were told, Whatever you do, do not disrespect the blackfish whale.

Hundreds of years later, an archaeological dig at Breeze Point revealed a lot of seal bones. To me, this verifies Freddie’s story.

What’s your favorite part of the Hibulb Cultural Center? 

It’s all beautiful.  As you walk down the main corridor of the museum you see beautiful story poles, carvings, and art-stenciled design elements that are a permanent part of the museum’s interior structure. The Cultural Center is highly interactive, too, because we are the most technologically inclined tribe in this region. So you come into various exhibits, you push a button, and you’ll hear a story, listen to legends or language, or learn how boarding schools took Indian children from their parents from the mid-1800s into the 1930s, compromising family life and suppressing our people’s culture, history, life-ways, and spirituality. Also you can enter the cedar longhouse and see a media montage of Tulalip people talking, singing, and dancing.

So I have no favorite part. You must not miss anything.

The new Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve is at 6410 23rd Avenue NE; Tulalip; 360.716.2600. Admission for adults is $10, with lower rates for seniors, military personnel, veterans, and children under 18.


Ed Wetschler is  the associate editor of Everett Potter’s Travel Report, and the executive editor of Tripatini.


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  1. October 28, 2011 at 9:05 am — Reply

    You could focus on First Peoples museums in this region by seeing the Hibulb museum and then cross the border to see the Antrhopology and Campbell museums in Vancouver.

  2. October 28, 2011 at 9:34 am — Reply

    Really nice report Ed. Do you want the story posted to our new web site: http://www.nytwa.info/travel? It’s still under construction but will be up soon. Stay tuned!

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