Suquamish Museum: Discover the Heart of Suquamish Culture on the Kitsap Peninsula


Whether you get there by ferry or car, go to the “place of clear salt water” (dxʷsəqʷəb in the Southern Lushootseed language), home to the Suquamish people since time immemorial. If the verdant land of the Kitsap Peninsula and the whispering winds of the Agate Passage and Salish Sea could speak, they would tell stories of thriving tribal cultures and rich history.

Nowhere illustrates the stories more vividly than Suquamish Museum, one of the first tribal museums in the country.

“I think that’s what’s really important about tribal tourism – indigenous voices expressing their own history,” says Lydia Sigo, Suquamish Museum’s curator/archivist.

Suquamish Museum is an ideal starting point for a visit to the peninsula. Streets and paths that join the Suquamish Museum lead to Suquamish Village and local cultural sites.


Check back with ICMN tomorrow (“Explore Washington’s Beautiful Kitsap Peninsula and its Rich Living Tribal Culture and History”) for a complete, suggested itinerary for your visit to the Port Madison Indian Reservation on the Kitsap Peninsula, with additional recommendations for exploring surrounding islands, as well major nearby cities like Seattle. Recommendations include water adventures; where to eat geoduck, baked salmon, clams and oysters; where to explore in nature and at local shops; and where to sleep.

Suquamish Musem

“I grew up in the museum,” Sigo says. Her father held the position before her. “Instead of going pre-school, I would go with my dad while he was helping to build our museum and its exhibits, collecting any Suquamish manuscripts or photographs.”

Sigo, who left the Port Madison Indian Reservation to study film in Chicago and then California, has since digitized the historical images and texts. She returned to the peninsula when she scored a contract as a geoduck diver, though she quickly found herself back at her second childhood home, Suquamish Museum.

Sigo has a personal connection with the objects owned by and on loan to the Suquamish Museum. She’s particularly fond of the “incredible workmanship” of the woven baskets.

Among the current exhibits featured in Suquamish’s rotating gallery are: Trade of the Northwest Coast, showing through June 11, 2017; Elwah: A River Reborn. on display through September 4, 2017; and People of the Clear Salt Water, exhibiting through Feb 11, 2018.

From the moment you walk between the Suquamish Museum’s welcoming House Posts, movement, textures and the forest environment enliven the senses. The symbolic movement of the tide inspire the imagination.

Ancient Shores – Changing Tides

Seven symbolic design elements illustrate an integrated cultural view of the Suquamish tribe over time; past, present, and future. The exhibit installation by Pacific Studios (Seattle) inspires visitors to see, listen and learn in a different way. The goal is to displace the modern way of historical contextual understanding. Culture is more than historical events strung together. The passing of knowledge and values, generation to generation, is the core of Suquamish culture.

One singularly beautiful feature spanning the length of the exhibit hall is a uniquely cedar designed timeline. Beginning at the end of the last Ice Age and progressing through to current time, visitors accustomed to an event sequence style of display can ground their learning experience.

Come Forth Laughing

The award-winning video production of Come Forth Laughing has been re-mastered for the new exhibit, updated by Sigo in partnership with Sadis Filmworks of Seattle with more oral history voices and photographs.

The film projects on three concrete screens in museum. All words in the film are clips of oral history spoken by tribal elders.

“The film Come Forth Laughing tells of the resilience of the tribe and its ancestors, and how adapted to modern life while still keeping their culture alive,” Sigo says.

Originally made in 1986, the name Come Forth Laughing refers to an old Suquamish game. “Two lines of people form on a beach, and someone tries to walk between the lines toward a clam shell on a stick. But while they’re walking, everybody is teasing them and doing everything they can to make the person laugh. It was created in part to teach children to control emotions during ceremony, but it’s a really fun game to play,” Sigo explains.

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Upcoming Exhibits

Among the many upcoming exhibits and events are the original works of Eighth Generation founder Louie Gong this month and the museum’s 34th anniversary in June.

Louie Gong, starting April 8

Don’t miss the featured artist exhibit starting April 8: Louie Gong (Nooksack). Gong is a Seattle-based artist and entrepreneur known for merging traditional Coast Salish art with influences from his urban environment to make strong statements about identity. In 2008, he founded Eighth Generation, a small business selling products that feature cultural artwork by Native artists. In 2015, Eighth Generation became the first Native-owned company to offer wool blankets, and in 2016, he opened a store at Pike Place Market. A finalist for Seattle’s 2016 Mayors Arts Award, Louie’s artwork and products reflect the lived experiences of Native peoples today, challenging stereotypical views of what Native art – or Natives - should look like.

34th Anniversary of the Suquamish Museum, June 3

On June 3, celebrate the 34th Anniversary of the Suquamish Museum. Community members will gather to commemorate 34 years of collecting, preserving, studying, exhibiting and teaching the living culture and history of the Suquamish Tribe at the Museum. Participate in hands-on traditional arts stations, performances by local artists, and behind-the-scenes

The end of museum walking tour feeds visitors outside toward the dock, where restaurants and cafes dot the waterfront.

Check back tomorrow for tips on exploring Washington’s Kitsap Peninsula and the nearby Bainbridge Island, with special recommendations for those traveling from Seattle.

Suquamish Museum
6861 NE South Street

PO Box 498
Suquamish, WA 98392
(360) 394-8499

Open Daily

10:00 am to 5:00 pm

Adults $5
Elders 55 and over $3
Children 5 to 17 $3
Families $15

Admission is free for Suquamish Tribal members, Suquamish Tribe employees, and Museum Friends.

This story was originally published April 3, 2017.