Seattle—The Burke Museum will connect two distant communities that share a common interest in preserving their natural and archaeological heritage, and revitalizing cultural practices, thanks to an $80,000 grant awarded by the American Alliance of Museums.
Suquamish, Washington and El Nido, Palawan, in the Philippines, are both shoreline communities that share a deep history of harvesting from the sea. In both communities, the primary source of income has been shifting away from natural resource extraction and toward tourism. By facilitating this project, the Burke Museum will encourage stewardship of both areas’ fragile natural and cultural resources.
Funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Cultural Affairs, and administered by the American Alliance of Museums, the “Museums Connect” grant program is designed to increase cross-cultural understanding. Through the Burke’s project, “Ancient Shores, Changing Tides,” members of both communities will explore their archaeological pasts, with a focus on practices related to fishing, gathering, and herbal medicine. The goals of this collaboration are for each community to come away with firsthand knowledge of a different culture, a deeper understanding of their own heritage, and the expertise to steer tourism development in a sustainable direction.
“When I first visited El Nido in 2010, I was impressed by the local enthusiasm for archaeology,” says the Burke Museum’s Curator of Archaeology Dr. Peter Lape. “This grant is a wonderful opportunity to support cultural champions at the grassroots level.”
Dr. Jun Cayron, Director of Palawan State University Museum added, “This collaborative exchange fits very well with the Palawan State University’s mission, which is to work towards sustainable development through community empowerment.”
Throughout the project, residents of Suquamish and El Nido will be connecting with each other through mailed packages, Skype calls, and social media. The highlight will be international travel, when five members of each community will visit the other country. The Filipino delegation is scheduled to arrive in October 2013, with the Suquamish set to travel to the Philippines in January 2014.
While the two communities are near opposites in terms of climate, with Suquamish dominated by cedar trees and El Nido lined with coconut palms, a strong spirit of hospitality is emerging as a common bond. Participants in both El Nido and Suquamish are busy planning the fishing trips and seafood feasts that will take place when the communities visit each other.
“I look forward to meeting with the Cuyonon people and learning how their cultural knowledge is preserved and shared, from one generation to the next,” says Lydia Sigo, Suquamish Museum archivist/curator, “We want to share the history of the Suquamish people and show the value that we place on our traditions and the teachings of our ancestors, while still embracing change and growth, for the future of the Tribe.”
Meanwhile, in the Philippines, anticipation is building regarding the upcoming delegation visits. As Philippine participant Arvin Acosta, who is El Nido’s tourism director, said, “I hope the Suquamish will thoroughly enjoy their visit. We are so excited to welcome them, and show them traditional Cuyonon practices –how we cook food, play, gather shells, and sail.”
In addition to the rich cultural activities, the museums will coordinate a series of workshops where participants will investigate and document how ways of life and practices have evolved over time. The end goal will be to create an exhibit that will enhance the community’s tourist appeal. In Suquamish, that exhibit will be located in the Old Man House Park, on the shore of Puget Sound. Lying at the center of the Suquamish winter village on Agate Pass, just south of the present-day town of Suquamish, the Old Man House was home to Chief Sealth (Chief Seattle) and Chief Kitsap.
As Ford W. Bell, AAM’s president, noted, “We were impressed by the Burke’s project. It reflects the spirit of collaboration that is so important to the museum field today. It has the potential to generate lasting ties between these institutions and their respective communities.”
According to Dr. Julie K. Stein, Executive Director of the Burke Museum, “The ‘Ancient Shores, Changing Tides’ project draws on the Burke’s long history of cultural collaborations with indigenous communities of the Pacific region. It promises to be an integral aspect of our ongoing mission to engage with our communities and create a better understanding of the world and our place within it.”
Background on the Museums Participating in the Museums Connect Project:
Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture The Burke Museum is the premiere museum of natural history and cultural heritage in the Pacific Northwest. The museum is responsible for Washington State collections of natural and cultural heritage and sharing the knowledge that makes these objects meaningful. Located on the University of Washington campus, the Burke serves its community with collections, research, exhibitions, and educational programs in three scientific divisions: anthropology, biology, and geology. The Burke holds nationally ranked collections in each of these divisions and is particularly well known for Northwest Coast and Alaskan Native art, holding the country’s fifth largest such collection. The Burke is a leader in developing collaborative exhibits and programs with partner communities throughout the Pacific.
Palawan State University Museum The mission of the Palawan State University Museum is to preserve, protect and disseminate Palawanʼs heritage. More than 2,000 ethnographic and archaeological materials are held in the museumʼs collection, with display areas showcasing Palawanʼs flora and fauna. Located on the Palawan State University campus, students use this museum for their museum appreciation and cultural resource management classes, while Puerto Princessa City residents take part in public activities including the Indigenous People Month exhibition, music and dances, an archaeology week celebration, and lectures on Palawan culture.
Suquamish Museum A new museum facility, completed in 2012, houses the Suquamish Museum and Cultural Center just up the hill from the Old-Man-House village site. Set in a natural landscape of native plants, the space reflects the traditional Big House architecture of the Coast Salish. This Silver LEED building houses the Suquamish Tribes collections of artifacts, photographs and manuscripts. The public areas offer permanent and temporary exhibition spaces, research space, education rooms, and a museum store.
Balay Cuyonon [the House of Cuyonon Culture] Located in Sibaltan, El Nido, Palawan, the Balay Cuyonon is a place where curiosity about the past is cultivated in order to build a better future. The Balay Cuyonon is traditionally-built bamboo structure with a thatch roof made of Nipa palm filled with all the items that one might find in a Cuyonon home at the turn of 20th Century. [Source: Lace Thornberg, Museum Connect Project Coordinator.]