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Lives of early First Nation people

SAN JUAN ISLAND, Wash. - Witness the first contact between Vikings and First Nations people in Newfoundland in the year 1000, marvel at spirited waterfalls and ancient red cedars as storytellers tell of 10,000 years of life on the Upper Skagit region of Puget Sound, learn how Northwest Coast tribal artists were influenced by the natural world around them, or make a Tsimshian berry basket out of red cedar bark.

Several educational programs are taking place in the Puget Sound region to introduce people to First Nations culture and history - dating to the first encounter with Europeans and earlier. Some of the programs even offer college credit.

First contact between Vikings, First Nation people

The Nordic Heritage Museum's exhibit, "Full Circle: First Contact. Vikings and Skraelings in Newfoundland and Labrador," continues until May 25.

The exhibit celebrates the meeting of Vikings and First Nations people in what is now Newfoundland 1,000 years ago as "(completing) a circle of human migration that scientists believe to have begun somewhere around 100,000 B.C."

Skraelings was the name used by the Vikings for the First Nations people they met. According to the museum, it was not a pleasant encounter.

The first Native Americans settled Newfoundland about 6000 B.C., according to the museum. In 4000 B.C., Newfoundland tribes and the Vikings had similar lifestyles - they were both maritime groups and hunter-gatherers.

By 1000 A.D., the densely populated Vikings had turned more to farming and began to colonize their outer islands and move across the Atlantic toward the Americas.

In what is now Newfoundland, the Vikings found what they thought was empty, available farmland.

"A Viking settlement was unearthed in the northern peninsula of Newfoundland and it dates back to more than 1,000 years ago," said Sarah Byam of the museum.

When the tribes returned, following the animal migrations on their hunt, they found the Vikings on their hunting territory. Inevitably, the two people clashed, Byam said. Ultimately, the outnumbered Vikings retreated to Greenland.

"Full Circle" tries to give a balanced view of the First Nation and Viking perspectives of the experience. The exhibit consists of 300 pieces, including jewelry, weapons and household objects used by the Vikings and the First Nations people. There are photos, maps, scale models, artists' impressions, a 40-minute audio narrative and educational events for children.

Children can make Beothuk pendants on April 26, maps on May 3, ship figureheads on May 10, and Viking brooches on May 17.

The Nordic Heritage Museum is located at 3014 N.W. 67th St., Seattle, Wash. 98117. Call (206) 789-5707, visit www.nordicmuseum.com, or e-mail nordic@intelistep.com.

North Cascades Institute

North Cascades Institute is the Northwest's leader in field-based environmental education. Its classrooms include the tidewaters of Puget Sound, old-growth forests, alpine glaciers and sagebrush steppes. North Cascades offers 73 classes related to the environment in which the Puget Sound tribal cultures thrived.

"People of the Upper Skagit: 10,000 Years of Wilderness Tales," will be held July 11-13. Participants tour Ross Lake, ancient red cedar forests and 9,000-foot Jack Mountain with its Nohokomeen Glacier.

Storytellers Bob Mierendorf and Gerry Cook uncover 10,000 years of human history in the Upper Skagit watershed along the U.S.-Canadian border. Learn about Ice Age geology, early Native life and European-American explorers, miners, and settlers, as well as modern backcountry culture in these wildlands.

"Form-line Art of Northwest Coast Tribes," is Sept. 19-21. Artist Scott Jensen leads a tour of the San Juan Islands in the 65-foot Snow Goose.

Through stories, presentations and design exercises, participants learn to identify and draw the organic shapes of form-line art. Participants will visit Patos, Sucia and Stuart islands to look for natural patterns in wood, rock and wildlife - images reflected in masks, totem poles and other traditional art.

Participants will also visit the First Nations Exhibit at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, B.C.

"Tsimshian Basketry: A Woven Tradition," is March 5-7, 2004. Tsimshian weaver Loa Ryan shows participants how to make a tradition 'Ts-La, or berry basket.

Drawing from historic and pre-historic basketry methods, participants will use alternating strips of natural and richly dyed red cedar bark to create checkerboard patterns of a design called Nigilhwa'd, or "opposite pattern." Ryan will share insights into the Tsimshian culture.

Tsimshians are known as the "people of the Skeena," reflecting their home along the Skeena River in northern British Columbia, including Prince Rupert, and on the coastal islands.

North Cascades Institute awards a master of education in Natural Science and Science Education through Huxley College at Western Washington University.

The institute also raises money for educational programs for children. More than 1,000 children camped last year with their teachers and learned the value of the North Cascades ecosystem in their daily lives. More than 45 percent of these children were from Native American or Hispanic families.

For information about the North Cascades Institute's programs, call (360) 856-5700, ext. 209, e-mail nci@ncascades.org or visit www.ncascades.org

Correspondent Richard Walker reports from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at (360) 378-6289 or irishmex2000@yahoo.com