Traveling exhibit at Lynden museum explores traditional foods of Puget Sound natives

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 11, 2013 

LYNDEN - A new traveling exhibit at Lynden Pioneer Museum is small in size but it deals with a big issue: the importance of what people eat and where their food comes from.

The "Salish Bounty" exhibit was put together by the Burke Museum at the University of Washington. It's the first such presentation to land in Whatcom County since Burke's traveling exhibit program began six years ago.

The exhibit's subtitle, "Traditional Native American Foods of Puget Sound," makes the focus clear. Long before the current push to "eat local," traditional Salish tribes in the Puget Sound area, including the Lummis and Nooksacks, consumed in one fashion or another more than 280 species of plants and animals.

The name Nooksack is derived from the European spelling of the word describing the heart of the Nooksack lands, a prairie near the mouth of Anderson Creek, said Troy Luginbill, director of the Lynden museum. The name means "Always Bracken Fern Root" and describes a place that was full of bracken ferns, the roots of which were a dietary staple for the Nooksacks, he said.

Of course, there was much more than native greens on the native menu.

"We ate deer, we ate elk, we ate fish," said Elizabeth King George, referring to her growing-up years as a member of the Nooksack Tribe.

She and her husband, Warren King George, have interviewed tribal members about traditional foods, in part because younger generations have grown unfamiliar with what nourished their grandparents and great-grandparents. Hunting and fishing regulations, for example, now make it difficult for young people to experience capturing and consuming wild game.

"I've noticed that change in my lifetime," Elizabeth King George said. "My kids never really got to taste what deer tasted like, what elk tasted like."

So she and her husband were pleased when experts at the Burke Museum asked them to co-curate the traveling exhibit, which includes a 4-minute video about archaeological research into Salish foods, posters, and informational banners.

The exhibit opens at the Lynden museum Friday, Feb. 15, and runs through June 24.

"It's a pretty neat thing," said Elizabeth King George, who now lives in Auburn. "It's nice to be a part of that."

The exhibit also touches on pressures for Indians to relinquish their traditional foods. For decades, government schools discouraged Indian youths from using their native languages, cultural practices and traditional foods. Such schools included the Stickney Island Mission School, which operated in east Lynden from the early 1890s into the early 1900s.

"They were there to de-Indianize them," Luginbill said. "It's a dark period of American history."

The subject isn't all depressing, thankfully. Tribes today are working to blend modern nutritional insights with traditional foods, and museumgoers can take home intriguing recipes from the Northwest Indian College book "Feeding the People, Feeding the Spirit: Revitalizing Northwest Coastal Indian Food Culture." Recipes include grilled venison, kelp pickles, camas nettle soup and salmon wrapped in skunk cabbage.

COMING UP

What: "Salish Bounty," a traveling exhibit from the Burke Museum in Seattle.

Where: Lynden Pioneer Museum, 217 Front St.

When: Exhibit runs Friday, Feb. 15, through June 24.

Extra: Public programs are being planned, including two free talks:

- 1 p.m. May 11: Allan Richardson will discuss connections between foods and Nooksack place names. He is the co-author of "Nooksack Place Names: Geography, Culture, and Language."

- 1 p.m. May 18: Historian and author Janet Oakley will discuss pioneer food traditions.

Reach DEAN KAHN at dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2291.

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