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‘It’s a proud day for the Samish’

ANACORTES, Wash. – A ceremony celebrating the opening of the Samish Gallery of Native Arts Dec. 5 was a homecoming of sorts.

It was here, at 708 Commercial Ave. in Old Town Anacortes, that the Samish Indian Nation operated Potlatch Gifts in the 1980s and ’90s. The council offices were here at one time, as was Samish Longhouse Preschool.

That was when the Samish Nation was fighting to re-establish its government-to-government relationship with the United States; a clerical error in the late 1960s had left the Samish Nation off a list of federally recognized tribes. Recognition came again in 1996.

The gallery opening was a symbol of how far Samish has come since then: Today, Samish owns Fidalgo Bay Resort on Weaverling Spit, and the council meets in second-floor offices overlooking the bay. Samish Longhouse Preschool is located on D Avenue. Samish owns offices on Commercial Avenue in Anacortes, land on nearby Campbell Lake, and oyster beds on Lopez Island.

Samish officials are excited to see where this latest venture will lead.

“Samish Gallery of Native Art was developed for three distinctive purposes,” Samish Councilman David P. Blackinton said. “To provide a showcase for Native artists who present authentic art with an emphasis on traditional or contemporary Coast Salish style, to serve as a support for the Samish Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation Program whereby the gallery and staff will offer an encouraging and supportive environment for work experience for vocational rehabilitation clients, and to provide the community with the opportunity to learn about and appreciate Native culture and art.”

Blackinton said the gallery will be a cultural center of sorts, with classes for the public and workspace for artists.

At the public reception, artist Kevin Paul, Colville/Swinomish, offered a song gifted to his family in 1982 by the late Percy

Bullchild, author of “The Sun Came Down: The History of the World as My Blackfeet Elders Told It” and “American Indian Genesis: The Blackfeet Story of Creation.”

Rosie Cayou-James, Samish cultural director, offered a song, “Samish Anthem,” which came to her son during the 2002 Canoe Journey.

State House Speaker Pro Tem Jeff Morris – whose late grandfather, Jinks Blackinton, served on the Samish council – called the gallery opening an “overwhelming” experience. He said the gallery is a great economic accomplishment in a recession and a testament “to the creativity of our Native people.

“It’s a proud day for the Samish, a proud day for the Northwest and a proud day for the state of Washington.”

Larry Campbell, Swinomish, said Potlatch Gifts “did a lot to educate people about the challenges in front of the Samish people at the time.” Of Native art, he said, “It’s more than a piece of art. It’s an expression from the vital part of who we are as Native people.”

Featured artists in the gallery include William Bailey, Samish; Peter Boome, Upper Skagit; Dean LuLu, Thompson/Nanaimo; Marvin Oliver, Quinault/Isleta Pueblo; Kevin Paul, Swinomish; Shaun Peterson, Puyallup; and Susan Point, Musqueam. The gallery also features contemporary and traditional works by emerging Samish artists.

On exhibit are four of Point’s earliest serigraphs that were exhibited at Potlatch Gifts: “Captive Maiden” (1983), “Man and Thunder Lizards” (1986), “Snow Owl” (1986), “Spirit of a Warrior” (1986).

These early Point serigraphs are significant. In 1981, when most artists were working in the formline style of Northwest Coast Native art, Point studied art designs on Coast Salish artifacts – like combs, mat creasers, rattles and spindle whorls – to draw out the language of Coast Salish design and bring it to life in her artwork. These serigraphs are early examples of this pioneering work.

While the gallery is primarily a showcase for Coast Salish art, other prominent Northwest Coast Native artists are represented as well. The gallery has serigraphs by David Boxley, Tsimshian; jewelry by Israel Shotridge, Tlingit; and cedar baskets by Eliasica Timmerman, Haida. On display are two striking works by Tlingit carver Fred Fulmer: a mask, “Raven Opened My Eyes,” and a six-foot pole, “Gonakadet Totem.”

Samish Gallery of Native Arts is an enterprise of the Samish Indian Nation, whose historical territory includes southeast San Juan Island, eastern Lopez Island, and Blakely, Cypress, Fidalgo, Guemes and Samish islands.

Samish has long used public art to help tell the story of its traditional territory. Samish public art includes house posts at its offices on Commercial Avenue; a welcome pole at Fidalgo Bay Resort; and a 24-foot carved likeness of Ko-kwal-al-woot, a Samish woman who married a sea being to guarantee salmon runs for her people. The statue is located in Deception Pass State Park.