Weekend Highlights

Published November 16, 2012
Going Places

Hands-On Learning for Kids at the Hibulb Cultural Center

by Kelly Rogers Flynt
seattle child article photo
seattle child article photo
Photos courtesy of the Hibulb Cultural Center.

Washington State has a new jewel in its museum crown: the Hibulb Cultural Center & Natural History Preserve. 

The new center in Tulalip is the state’s only certified tribal facility. This impressive site includes exhibit galleries, a canoe hall, a traditional longhouse and a 50-acre preserve. From the moment you enter the colossal, carved doors, you are on a journey with the Tulalip tribes. 

Flanked by giant totems, the first room of the exhibit hall features items from the permanent collection.  Here, you will learn about the tribes and their connections to the natural world.  Kids will not only see examples of basketry and fish nets, but will also have the opportunity through interactive displays to try various patterns of weaving baskets and how to tie the knots in a fish net for themselves. 

My 8-year-old daughter stayed at the fish net display until she could tie the perfect knot.  However, as much she loved the knots, she questioned the use of bark for weaving clothing.  While I argued for ingenuous use of available materials, she insisted the clothes would be nothing but itchy. 

The other big kid-magnet in the main gallery was the story-teller display.  While many of the exhibits included an audio component, it was the story-teller that really captured both my kids’ attention.  But then, who doesn’t love to hear a good story?  For me, I liked that they were listening to the same stories that the Tulalip peoples have listened to for generations and that the story was presented in its purest form – a compelling native voice without any video embellishments, flash or bling. 

The oldest way to transfer knowledge from one generation to the next still works even with the shortened attention spans of children today. Some of the other displays in the room focused on heavier subjects, such as the assimilation of the native peoples into the predominantly white culture and the struggles and discrimination associated with the assimilation.  Hibulb doesn't pull any punches here.  There are first person accounts that reveal the true pain and heartache the natives suffered. While this topic may be a little weighty for younger kids, it provides a great opportunity for discussions with older kids and reinforces how important it is to accept people's differences.

The changing gallery currently features an exhibit entitled, "Warriors:  We Remember."  The exhibit not only displays the contributions of the Tulalip tribes through service in the U.S. military, but it also draws connections between their warrior ancestry and modern military service.  I was surprised how interested my 11-year-old son was in this section.  When asked why, he responded that he liked the surprise of it.  He was expecting to see the baskets, canoes and other typical items from native cultures, but as he said, “this reminds you that they are not just in the past.”

Running alongside the exhibit galleries is the canoe hall.  Both my kids loved the canoes, especially the big one.  Luckily there were staff on hand to answer our questions as this is one area that does not have interpretive information posted.  Across from the canoes is a small coloring area that provides tribal art coloring pages for kids to enjoy. 

The enticing aroma of cedar will lead you to the longhouse that is located at the far end of the center.  It is a replica of a traditional longhouse that was the center of social and ceremonial life of the tribes.  The room itself is impressive and includes columns from the old longhouse on the reserve.  A short movie reveals the life and heart of the longhouse as it has been used by native peoples for generations.  Special effects from the ceiling, windows and the imitation fire pit in the floor coordinate with the film.  The open space to roam and move is not wasted.  Children intuitively start to move around the fire pit in circles, waving their arms in imitation of the dances portrayed in the film.

Emerging from the longhouse back into the canoe hall, I could only think of one word for Hibulb:  impressive.  The breadth and detail of history on display is amazing.  The center is intended for an all-inclusive audience, and this is evident in their exhibits, which speak to every generation so that everyone can walk away with a new fact, a story, a new understanding and even inspiration.  Since the trails in the nature preserve are not currently open to the public, it gives us the perfect excuse for another visit.

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