Thus far in 12 Cities, 1 Year, I’ve made a point of checking out American Indian culture in both Missoula and Seattle. While we were in Missoula, Todd and I attended the Standing Arrow Powwow on the Flathead Reservation and visited the People’s Center on our way up to Glacier National Park. Today I visited the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in Discovery Park on Puget Sound. It’s across Salmon Bay from Ballard, in the Magnolia neighborhood, and its claim to fame is that it is the only Indian center in the United States established by militant protest, organized by a Colville Indian named Bernie Whitebear.
The People’s Center focuses on educating people about the Salish, Pend d’Oreille, and Kootenai peoples (the three tribes living on the Flathead Reservation north of Missoula). Daybreak Star, by contrast, provides a variety of services to urban Indians living in Seattle. So in the first city Todd and I visited, we found an Indian center close to the reservation focusing on the people from that area, and in the second city we found an Indian center providing services to United Indians of All Tribes.
When I was there in July, the People’s Center had an impressive exhibit about the settlement of the Bitterroot Valley in the mid-1800s. Todd and I paid our money and started looking around. Photos were not allowed, but I did take a few notes. Here’s the quote that resonated with me:
The treaty clearly spells out that the [Flathead] reservation was the portion of the tribal homeland which the tribes declined to give up to the federal government.
Kinda puts a new spin on the impression most white people have that we gave Indians their reservation lands, doesn’t it? If you follow the link above to the history of the Daybreak Star center, you’ll find a similar theme running through the narrative.
These days, the Flathead Reservation is doing its best to buy back reservation lands lost to white settlement in the early 1900s. If you want to know more about it, search for “allotment” and “Dawes Act” on the Internet.
Today, when I walked into Daybreak Star, past the sign reading “Downstairs Closed” (because I thought “downstairs” referred to the basement, apparently), I found a group of people attending a seminar and asked one of them about the art exhibit. He directed me to the main office upstairs. The front-desk person I talked to there led me to a room of photographs portraying the events in the early 1970s that established the center (not shown in the picture below). In addition, paintings and carved wooden panels adorned the walls on the second floor, and the center will soon open another exhibit.
The level of friendliness was much higher at Daybreak Star than at the People’s Center. The woman whose job it was to take my money in Montana didn’t make any effort to welcome me, but the woman in Seattle was very friendly, escorted me to the exhibit room, and said it would be fine for me to photograph the center.
After I looked at the photographs, I went outside and enjoyed the view of Puget Sound. Then I walked behind Daybreak Star, where I found these murals, and through the woods to the road. The vegetation was lush, and I felt cut off from the city for a few moments.
Daybreak Star has 20 acres in Discovery Park; there are trails to explore and, it seems, a lighthouse in the southern part of the park.
I’m going to end this post with a quote from a sign on Highway 200 in Montana, south of the entrance to the National Bison Range. (After letting white hunters drive bison nearly to extinction in the late 1800s, the federal government decided to take some land from the Flathead Reservation and use it as a bison reserve.) The sign is titled “Flathead Reservation” and reads in part:
“Flathead” was a misnomer applied to the Salish by Lewis and Clark. No one knows for sure where it came from, but like many early names for tribes, it stuck. It seems that the whites almost always had a handle to hang on a tribe before they met anyone who could tell them their own name for themselves.
And here is a picture of another sign from the Flathead Reservation. As a copyeditor, I’m tickled by the superscript W in the bottom line.