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Culture comes alive at Arctic Raven

FRIDAY HARBOR, Wash. - Kwaguilth artist Jason Hunt touched up a large
ceremonial mask carved by his father, Stan, as people commented on its
beauty and asked questions.

The mask represents more than a piece of art; it represents the survival
and the way of life of a people.

Not long ago, the Kwaguilth people were almost extinct. The government
destroyed their longhouses, and stole cultural artifacts and sold them to
museums. The people were forced to study in non-Native residential schools
and it was illegal to speak Native languages. Old men and women were jailed
for participating in potlatches.

Hunt's grandfather and great-grandfather continued to potlatch and to use
their creative gifts, even at the risk of being jailed. Because of them,
their culture survives. The people go to longhouse ceremonies again.
Cultural artifacts are being repatriated. The languages are being taught in
public schools. And young people like Hunt, gifted with carving and other
art forms, are doing what their ancestors did.

These are the stories that were told - the lessons that were learned - June
4 at the 10th anniversary celebration at Arctic Raven Gallery. The gallery
is largely considered the leading Northwest Coast Native art gallery
outside of the metropolitan areas of Seattle, Vancouver and Victoria.

The Henderson and Hunt families of the Kwaguilth Nation, as well as other
Northwest Coast Native artists, visited Arctic Raven Gallery to celebrate
the anniversary and kick off its month-long show, "Ten Years After."

"Ten Years After" is as much a celebration of the re-emergence of Northwest
Coast art as it is of Arctic Raven's 10th year.

Founder/owner Lee Brooks, 56, grew up on Fir Island, not far from the
Swinomish Indian Community. He was always interested in Native art and
culture and created a course in Native Studies at Skagit Valley College.

After working in the building trades, he decided to take out a loan and
open a Northwest Native art gallery. "People were paying attention to
Northwest Native art - finally," he told The Journal of the San Juan
Islands.

As he met and worked with artists, Brooks gained a reputation for integrity
and high standards. He personally visits the artist. He doesn't sell art on
consignment; he buys it outright from the artist, then sells it in the
gallery.

Kwaguilth artist Junior Henderson said of Brooks: "He goes door to door and
he sees you face to face. He makes sure that the feelings are good, and
that's important."

Artists say Arctic Raven has helped promote an accurate picture of American
Indian and First Nations people. Indeed, the gallery was a major proponent
of the acquisition and placement of Coast Salish house posts carved by
Musqueam artist Susan Point; those posts are in a Friday Harbor park
overlooking the harbor, the entry point for about 500,000 visitors a year.

The posts are the first public acknowledgement of the island's rich
indigenous heritage. San Juan Island, north of Washington's Puget Sound,
was the traditional fishing, hunting, trading and gathering place for the
Lummi, Saanich, Samish, Semiahmoo, Songhees and Sooke. It was also home of
the Mitchell Bay Band, a tribe not federally recognized.

"Lee's is a major gallery for the islands," Haida artist April White said.
"A lot of it is education ... learning about culture and our connection to
nature. It's not just myths and legends."

Brooks was honored with song and dance for his promotion of Northwest Coast
Native art and culture and his relationship with the artists.

"It's not just a piece of art," Henderson said of his culture. "It's real
and it comes alive when we dance."

Significant pieces in "Ten Years After" include Henderson's "Sun Mask,"
measuring over seven feet and carved of red cedar with copper and cedar
bark; a cedar totem pole of Wolf and Thunderbird by Stan Hunt; a sculpted
glass table by Rande Cook; a carved thunderbird mask by Chief Bill
Henderson; and a pole by Greg Henderson and Tom Hunt, representing their
family crests and the melding of their families.

Also on display is a Pendleton blanket featuring "White Raven's Moonlit
Flight" by April White.

Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash.
Contact him at irishmex2000@yahoo.com.

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