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Hibulb Cultural Center Tells Tulalip Story, in Their Own Words

The pattern of the walkway is a scaled version of the Snohomish River. The river guides the visitor, like it did the people of the Tulalip Tribes since time immemorial, on a journey.

Hank Gobin, director of the $19 million Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve, says the symbolism of the river is intentional; the journey of the Tulalip people is the theme of the center. The walkway winds through the center, past exhibits and down the Hall of Canoes to a representation of a longhouse, then outside to the natural history preserve.

All along the journey, the story of the Tulalip people is told in art, interactive displays, photographs, videos and words. They are the words of elders who participated in the planning for the museum, these children and grandchildren of Snohomish, Snoqualmie and Skykomish peoples who settled on a reservation established by the 1855 treaty at a place known as “small-mouthed bay” and became the Tulalip Tribes.

It took more than 20 years to get from conception to opening day Aug. 20. The Tulalip council proposed the museum in the 1980s but needed to focus first on economic development so it could better meet the health and social needs of the community, Gobin said.

Like a salmon that spends its life at sea, then returns to its natal stream to spawn and continue the circle of life, Gobin spent his early career far from home, as art director of the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, N.M., eventually returning home to see the birth of this museum.

Gobin was well tuned for the task (he worked on this project with architect StastnyBrun, designer of Indian country cultural centers and museums throughout the west). During the planning process, Gobin asked elders and tribal leaders what they’d like to see in a cultural center. He collected their stories about the Tulalip experience – the traditional lifeways, the longhouse, residential schools, 20th century wars, revival of the culture.

To some elders, like Gobin’s cousin, political leader and artist Bernie Kai Kai Gobin, there was a sense of urgency. They wanted to share their experiences before they walked on.
“Kai Kai came to the meetings like a man with a purpose,” Gobin said. Kai Kai died May 4, 2009, but not before sharing his experiences.

“I realized what they were sharing was from their parents and grandparents. They had witnessed history first-hand,” Gobin said. When elders told him about their experiences at residential school, “I realized, ‘We must use their words.’ ”

Those words, those memories and experiences, are all reflected here, in exhibits about cedar, salmon, tribal government, life in the longhouse, the residential school experience, trade, sports, and military service. Some artifacts date to the 1700s.

The displays are dynamic. At two touch screens, tribal members can type in their enrollment numbers and get copies of their genealogies. There are interactive features and a film of interviews with Tulalip military veterans.

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In the longhouse, thunder booms and lightning flashes during a film about life in the longhouse. On display are four house posts carved by Chief William Shelton circa 1914 for the longhouse on Tulalip Bay. Shelton (1869-1938) replicated house posts he saw in the great potlatch house at Skagit Bay Head in the 1870s.

In the Hall of Canoes, two river canoes and one sea-going canoe are on display, backdropped by large images of the waters these canoes would have traveled. A Coast Salish-style depiction of canoes on the water is etched in glass on walls and doors in the hall. A collection of artifacts archeologist John L. Mattson found in 1974 while documenting Hibulb Village at Preston Point in Everett is also on exhibit in the hall. (Gobin said Hibulb was known as “the place of a thousand fires,” because of the number of cooking fires travelers saw there. An elder also translated the word “Hibulb” as the place where the white doves are.)

The cultural center is 23,000 square feet; the natural history preserve is 40 acres. Here, children are growing and learning about the medicinal, nutritional and spiritual uses of plants their ancestors knew.
Reflecting on how he felt after 20 years of work to see the museum become a reality, Gobin referred to the quote on the 1913 Edward Curtis photograph in the lobby, “Evening on Puget Sound,” next to the welcome figures carved by Joe Gobin and James Madison:

“The history of our people echoes over the coasts, rivers and mountains of our homeland … This is the story of our journey to becoming the Tulalip Tribes as told in our own words and voices.”
Gobin said, “I want to educate our young people and non-Indians of the history of our people … It didn’t come from someone’s book, it didn’t come from someone’s PhD dissertation. It’s their words.”

Lodging, dining, entertainment and recreation abound in and near Tulalip’s Quil Ceda Village.

The Tulalip Casino Resort Hotel is dramatically beautiful; the lobby is graced by 25-foot story poles carved by Tulalip artist James Madison from a 1,000-year-old red cedar and featuring bronze faces and hand-blown glass to disperse color throughout the poles. The hotel and its rooms are appointed in Coast Salish art. The T Spa is reportedly the largest spa in the Pacific Northwest. There are five restaurants and live entertainment in two lounges, a ballroom and a cabaret. And, of course, there is casino gaming.

Seattle Premium Outlets is the largest outlet mall in Washington state, with 110 top brand-name outlet stores.

The Tulalip Amphitheater is a regional entertainment destination. The lineup this fall includes Jamie Foxx, George Thorogood, Pat Benatar, Smokey Robinson, and Kenny Rogers.

On Marine Drive, Battle Creek Golf Course is a beautiful blend of golf and nature. Battle Creek flows to several ponds created by beaver dams. There are views of Puget Sound, Camano Island and the Olympic Mountains. Amenities include a driving range, chipping green, practice sand bunker, a large putting green, and the Battle Creek Cafe.

Follow Marine Drive north 10 miles, along the shore of Port Susan, to Kayak Point Golf Course, selected as one of “America’s Top 50 Public Courses to Play” by Golf Digest. Kayak Point is known for its serene setting, beautiful sloping fairways and magnificent views of the Olympic Mountains.